I began smoking full-time in third grade. Why? Mainly because I was cool. Well that, and because I grew up watching my parents, grandparents, neighbors, and every celebrity lighting up. My grandparents bought cartons of Camels by the case and stored them in their garage; providing plenty of opportunities for mini-me to abscond with packs (or even an occasional carton), stuffed under my favorite Happy Days t-shirt. It was blue and had the Fonz on it, thumbs up and head cocked to the side, saying “Ayyyyyyyyy“. Told you I was cool.
Note: In case you’re one of those rabid crusaders who pushes for ever-tougher regulations against the local 7-Elevens because you fear they are selling cigarettes to minors (you’ll know you’re one of these people if (a) you’re really old and have more than 10 political bumper stickers on your Subaru, (b) you’re in school and a teacher who falls into the previous category is giving you extra credit to do it, or (c) you go to every single city, county, or state meeting on tobacco control and speak out against the evils of cigarettes, capitalists, and convenience stores) you should be aware that the statistics actually show that youth get cigarettes from family or social contacts significantly more than they do by purchasing them. From the age of eight until 18 (when I could legally buy), I smoked every day and never attempted to actually buy a pack. (Okay, that’s not completely true. I bought one pack in fourth grade from an unattended vending machine in a diner, but my brother threw them into a creek so I don’t really count it.)
By high school I was smoking a pack a day, and in 1988 I graduated to two packs a day. I once tried to hit three, but discovered that going beyond 20-25 cigarettes in any one day gave me a headache, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and not enough money for food. And it took too much dedication; smoking three packs a day is like a competitive sport where you actually have to work to hit the mark.
In the Fall of 1995, after smoking for fifteen years, I decided to quit. My first daughter was born and I didn’t want her to spend a childhood like mine, in the back seat of a car covered in blown ash carelessly flicked out the window by my father. I figured that if I could at least make that improvement, I could claim that I gave her a better childhood than I had. That’s the goal, right?
I went cold turkey, as they say. I could have done the gum or the patch, but my boss at the time was a poster child for the ineffectiveness of those options. He was a good-looking man’s man; dark skinned, mustachioed, with piercing brown eyes that always noticed when I was slacking off. He would often launch into stories of his childhood traveling the dirt roads of Central California with his migrant farm-working family. He had gone to college, obtained an executive position with a national retail company, owned a beautiful home in the San Francisco Bay Area, and spent his free days golfing. Or so he told his wife.
He had confided in me one afternoon (the edge of a nicotine patch visible under the shirt cuff of one swarthy arm, a wad of nicotine gum doing calisthenics behind his dark mustache, as he lit a cigarette – apparently not realizing that another was already lit and smoking in the ashtray on his desk) that he actually spent his free days screwing the community college girls who worked at one of the retail stores he managed.
“I just stuff a couple of tees in my pocket and stop on the side of the road before I get home to rub mud on my pant legs,” he laughed, loud and long before picking up both lit cigarettes – looking at them for a moment before crushing one out with a shrug.
But I digress.
The point is, when it came time for me to quit cigarettes I had absolutely no faith in a patch or a gum. So cold turkey it was.
Were you aware that numerous studies show that simply walking away from cigarettes results in negative health issues? I wasn’t. There is a higher incidence of weight gain, hypertension, and diabetes among those who quit smoking cold turkey. Here is a photo of me a couple of months after I quit smoking:
Totally hot, I know. Even with the 80s haircut that managed to survive on my head all of the way into the 90s. Now, fast forward to me after eleven years of struggling to forget about cigarettes:
Same guy. You can tell by the I’m-not-really-smiling-smile. After years of replacing cigarettes with food, I went from 180 to 350 pounds. In this photo I was hypertensive, prediabetic, miserable, and had developed sleep apnea. If I knew in the before picture what I knew in the after picture, I would have punched the people who recommend cold turkey in the face. I still will, so watch your comments.
Was there really a benefit? I know that cigarettes will kill you. No one argues that. But being morbidly obese will too. Regardless of the current movement that says being fat is ‘healthy’ as long as you are happy and still like yourself; your body never got that memo. You’ll just apparently die happy. Or pretending that you’re happy. I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t pretending, and I was about to hit the store and pick up my favorite brand of cigarettes again.
So what was the answer for me? It just so happens that I stumbled across one – and I’m not even going to charge you for it.
I apologize, but I must assault you with another photo of me, because it shows what I discovered a few years ago. After jonesing for cigarettes and clearly addressing my hand-to-mouth tendencies in the wrong way for years, I saw a commercial that changed my life.
It was advertised as the technology of the future. “It’s just vapor,” the woman on the TV said. “No smoke. No combustion. No tobacco.” Now, I love new technology. (I know in this photo I look more like a beer-guzzling truck driver than a tech nerd, but looks can be deceiving, right?)
I immediately started searching the internet for this new, futuristic way to get nicotine; imagine not needing to light a wad of dried plants on fire and inhaling the smoke to get it? I was smart enough to know that nicotine isn’t what makes cigarettes kill you. Nicotine is just a stimulant similar to caffeine, and any truthful scientist will concur. It is not all that addictive alone, and has quite a few therapeutic properties. The danger in smoking cigarettes comes from the tar, carbon monoxide, pesticides, and the thousands of other chemicals that you ignite and inhale.
At that time, the electronic cigarette technology was still new. There were only a few retailers online and those in the tobacco industry (including regulators) were not even aware of the devices. I settled on the cool stainless steel model in the photo. Mainly because it had a bluish-purple jewel in the tip that lit up whenever I inhaled. Always be cool. Unfortunately there were only two flavors of vapor available; tobacco and menthol. The tobacco vapor tasted like sucking water out of a leather shoe that had been left outside too long, but the menthol one was quite refreshing.
I got a lot of strange looks at that time, driving around town “smoking” a little metal cylinder, but everyone I talked to was intrigued – especially the smokers. There was no smell, no smoke, no phlegm, and no morning cough. I had found my old friend nicotine, but he was no longer nestled in a big smoking pile of crap.
I have been “vaping” for six years now. I have long since left behind the cigarette-looking devices; technology has advanced significantly. As well as the flavor choices thank god. I tend towards the fruit, beverage, and dessert flavors because I enjoy them much more than crappy tobacco flavors. I also left behind almost 150 pounds.
My quality of life is light years beyond where it was. I am happy. I am healthy. I backpack miles into the wilderness for fun. And I have reduced my nicotine levels over time from 24mg to 6mg, and am about ready to go to 3mg on my way to zero.
If you are an adult cigarette smoker, or a former smoker whose life is miserable because you are constantly trying to find substitutes for your old friend – I implore you to investigate these new technologies that allow you to obtain nicotine in a vapor. According to the British Government, “vaping” nicotine is 95% (or more) safer than sucking cigarette poison into your lungs. And take it from a cold turkey quitter – the negatives that I experienced going down that road were equally shitty to just continuing to smoke.
Over the last six years, I have watched this amazing and life-saving technology go from interesting, new, and promising…to vilified and attacked at every level of media and government. And for no other reason than the fact that it works. Apparently too effectively. Obtaining nicotine with a liquid vaporizer can make cigarettes, the patch, the gum, and the prescribed you-may-stop-smoking-but-you-also-may-kill-yourself drugs completely obsolete.
Pharmaceutical companies, big tobacco companies, tobacco-tax-revenue-dependent governmental organizations, and the crazy anti-smoking zealots are pulling out all of the stops to destroy the fledgling “vape” industry before it can get a foothold. If the significantly safer “vape” alternative becomes generally accepted as the way to reduce or eliminate cigarette use worldwide, these huge organizations – who profit at the expense of millions of human beings – will collapse.
What you are seeing in all of the negativity surrounding this new technology is the potential death throes of those who make a significant amount of money off of the misery and suffering of everyone affected by cigarette smoking. They have a lot to lose – and they are not going quietly.
Based on my own personal experience with both cigarettes and “vaping,” I have decided to stand up to Big Tobacco, “nicotine replacement” pharmaceutical manufacturers, healthcare systems, and government agencies who require cigarette taxes to stay viable – and I am saying enough is enough.
Investigate “vaping” for yourself and whenever you run across the broad and repetitive criticisms of the technology, you should ask who stands to gain from the suppression or demonizing of “vaping” as a safer and actually effective means of ending cigarette dependency.
The answer to tobacco dependency is here. The “vape” industry is in its infancy, and just as it’s starting to provide the means to a better, healthier, and longer life for current cigarette smokers, it is being smothered in its crib by the people and organizations who need you to keep lighting up those cigarettes; who need you to stay dependent; who need you to continue getting sick and dying.
(For more information on the vaping debate, please read my three-part series which starts HERE.)