I started smoking when I was a bored and lonely 17-year-old irrigating
alfalfa fields in Utah for money and reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance for enlightenment. I smoked watching magpies splash in the
ditch, and for 20 years I kept sucking those nasty things for reasons of
self-loathing and distraction, and mainly because I couldn’t stop. In 1996,
just before my son was born, I put a lid on it. I wasn’t going to contaminate
my babies with second-hand smoke. And it wasn't hard to figure out how to quit
I was on the patch for a while. Then I chewed the little Nicorette pellets,
stashing them in my car and my satchel and by the bed, finding chewed pieces
stuck to my shirts and the inside of the clothes drier.
In active tobacco users, a lack of nicotine produces a wide range of withdrawal symptoms, including any or all of the following:
Constipation or diarrhea
Falling heart rate and blood pressure
Fatigue, drowsiness, and insomnia
Increased hunger and caloric intake
Increased desire for the taste of sweets
In 2001, I was hospitalized with a freaky bout of toxic shock for three
weeks and was dialyzed, oxygenated through a tube, and fed 40 different
medicines. That got the nicotine out of my system for good. Or so it
While spending the summer of 2004 in Tokyo, where everyone smokes, I started
up again, telling myself I could leave the habit on that side of the Pacific.
So now I’m a five-a-day man — cigarettes, not packs — and I kick myself each
time I light up. It’s a tiresome habit, and I’m going to quit smoking again.
A good reason to quit smoking: If you smoke, your kids will
They say you have to want to quit smoking. The thing I’ve never really
understood, though, is the meaning of “want to.” All smokers want to stop
smoking. You’d have to be born on the moon not to know that smokes give you
cancer and emphysema, cut years off your life, drive away pretty girls, and
waste your money. I don’t want any of that.
I don’t even like smoking past the second drag and often toss the thing only
halfway burned. I even smoke in secret if my kids are around. (Maybe I get some
kind of pleasure from doing it — perhaps because it makes me feel like an
outsider, residually cool, in touch with my feckless youth.) And yet, there is
that moment of satisfaction when I light up — or to be precise, seven seconds
later, the time it takes for the nicotine to reach my brain.
“What it boils down to is this,” says Robert Klesges, a clinical
psychologist at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.
“You have a list of reasons to quit, and that list has to be longer than the
list of reasons to continue.” Then he says, “The best way to predict whether
your kids are going to smoke is if you smoke. If you don’t want your kids to
smoke, put that down on the list.”