“If someone offers you one– just say no”- these were the words that rang in my ears when I was a child and that were regurgitated before I started university by my Nan. She like many other grandparents has a bank of phrases that she will regularly dish out at specific times in the vain hope of preventing me from getting into some sort of presupposed danger. With the best will in the world, I always knew my personal curiosity would override the logic of acknowledging the fact that smoking is bad. I still kind of cringe at saying ‘smoking is bad’ because there’s some kind of gritty glamour in smoking at university- not helped when you’re at university that normalises smoking culture so much. Back home smoking was more of a grim reality – think tatted up old men day drinking (but not in a cute way) outside a Premier store. Compare this to rolling cigs in the library for your study break after glancing at a page of your essential reading and you can see that this screams bonding experience over death sentence. I don’t have anything against smoking (I very much support individual choice), however, for me it has been the one habit that I have really struggled with. Even after almost throwing up my lung on the treadmill I still wasn’t convinced that I should chuck the cheap cigs I got in Krakow away.
Smoking is short-term validation, it’s a plaster stuck over a crack in the wall- I should clarify that this is all personal opinion. Most of the difficulty I had with quitting smoking stemmed from me using it as some sort of bizarrely comforting emotional crutch that helped me in stressful times. Far from feeling secure in the fact I don’t own any cigarettes, I struggle with feeling the urge to smoke to ‘take the edge off’ when things get tough. This isn’t some sort of preachy rant about smoking, I oddly have lots of happy memories of smoking often out of kitchen windows with that same familiar smell etched into my clothes. I also have less happy memories like how it affected my appetite and how dependent I was on that mellow almost lightheaded feeling I would get when I would have a cig in the morning with a coffee.
Unlike Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, I looked like a massive twat when I tried a cigarette. In the most non-unique fashion, I experienced it in a slightly gross nightclub smoking area. My friend rolled me one like a gift and I don’t remember much other than coughing a lot and regretting the amount I continued to smoke that evening the next day. Nothing seals a hangover like the mixture of alcohol, tobacco, and morning breath (yum). The taste definitely didn’t convince me that it was worth sacrificing £10 of my weekly budget for a pack of Camel Blues. For a large portion of my first year, I would say I was just a social smoker which can sometimes feel like a way of softening the fact that you are actually just a regular smoker in denial. Lots of nights spent in the smoking area asking for a rollie in a style reminiscent of Oliver Twist- “Please sir can I have a cigarette- I can pay you for it?” I don’t know why we’re so obsessed with offering random amounts of cash for a cigarette, it’s something I noticed myself doing from time to time, and then others do to me. I have to say I do still admire people’s rolling ability – something which most have some kind of unaffected nonchalance with but that I seem to make look like some sort of Olympic sport.
Exam season in second year was really the time when I noticed my habits changing. I anxiously bought my first pack of cigarettes half knowing I would form a bad habit out of it even though I assured my friend who waited outside that I would “only buy them the once”. This pack was solely for the purpose of getting me through essay deadlines, they were Marlboro Gold (even when making bad decisions I still want to do it with class xo) and tasted vile. What pisses me off is the fact that I carried on even though they tasted shit because once you get through the hump of bad taste you actually start to convince yourself that it’s quite nice. I would continue to have a cigarette with a coffee in the morning as though I were waking up in Paris opposite the Eiffel Tower and not opposite the students union. From that point onwards I didn’t really stop although I justify my behaviour by saying I would only smoke around 4/5 daily. I peaked when I was on a society trip to Poland and beyond trying to translate what cigarettes I wanted I made the cashier pick the least disgusting cigarette photos because if I’m going to commit to a stupid habit I at least wanted the more pleasant pack (I avoid the rotten teeth and tar infused lung photos at all cost).
Smoking at home was never really much of an option. I did feel like I was going on the naughty step whenever I would limply go outside for a fag break, I also would always bring perfume with me so I could drown myself and my shame in the smell of sickly Elizabeth Arden. Whilst my Mom has never told me what I can and can’t do she would always give me the same slightly indifferent yet pissed-off side eye when I would come back inside. This was probably also because she found a little cemetery for cigarette butts behind the shed. Most of her opinions surrounding this subject are linked to family deaths that were caused by smoking and when I say that I realise I was a bit dumb to smoke knowing how personally smoking has impacted my family. Lockdown definitely made this harder especially when I ran out of my cheap supply from Poland. More than anything I hated the mild withdrawal feelings that would gnaw at me. As cool as photos might look with a cigarette I definitely didn’t feel cool when I became wheezy during a gym session. This was definitely the kind of slightly embarrassing wake-up call I needed. For me, at least smoking isn’t something I want to continue to do but that I acknowledge as something I will have to persistently fight the urge to resist.