Why I Smoke?   

Why I Smoke?


My mind and my world put cigarettes in my mouth.

He strikes a match and the tip of the Marlboro burn a golden ember. He breathes out a cloud of smoke. Magic. I urge my father to form a smoke rings so that I could poke my tiny fingers through them. Together, we pollute the room with laughter and cigarette smoke.

It was on that afternoon I knew-I too would smoke.

Ridiculous but true. I began experimenting with cigarettes at the tender age of 11. I was ignorant of two things: how to inhale smoke and the ill effects of smoking. Perhaps I wasn't hooked then because 1 didn't finish my cigarettes, and before I was 12, I had stopped yearning for the deliciously dangerous tension of locking my bedroom door to marvel at my own smoke rings.

I picked up another stick in college. I was a teenager, invincible. There were no rules prohibiting students from smoking on campus, inside buildings or passenger vehicles. It was a free country. And I was, for the first time, living my own pseudo-independent life. Belonging to a group, which is fundamental for survival in school, was made easier by offering cigarettes to fellow students in exchange for a wider circle of friends. Little by little the fondness for forming smoke rings put me in the company of coffee-crazed intellectuals, alcoholic liberals and a few hungry poets.

My list of friends grew, and so did my excuses to smoke. Curiosity fell, and in its place were complex factors that I discovered in previous attempts to quit. Psychology, emotion and social influence conspired to form a tyranny that made me smoke whenever I:

Studied for exams. A study showed smoking provides a "smoke screen" from external stimuli or distractions, thereby allowing the mind to focus.

The truth is nicotine promotes the release of adrenaline, the "fight or flight" hormone that improves focus on immediate tasks. Activities that required concentration like reading, writing and playing billiards made me fall for the "mental alertness" that cigarettes brought. However, some respondents showed that difficulties in retrieving memory could be attributed to smoking. This was true. I didn't always fill in all the blanks on my test papers.

Sought relief from stress after exams. I mindlessly gave myself the pleasure of a cigarette whenever I walked out of exam rooms. Perhaps a yoga practitioner would tell me that it is merely the conscious act of breathing that makes the bad habit so relaxing.

The truth is when a smoker lights up and nicotine is delivered to the brain, it activates the "reward pathways," parts of the nervous system associated with behavior necessary for survival, such as eating.

They bring pleasant and happy feelings because the brain encourages survival behavior. Sadly, the brain can be confused into looking for a smoke.

Wailed for a ride. Erikson-Bradshow theories on growth and development say that unpleasant childhood experiences reveal themselves later in life. Perhaps waiting triggered memories of abandonment, and I smoked because I needed to be pacified. Perhaps I was stuck at an early stage in life where I was left alone and the ritual of sucking on a cigarette returned me to the oral pleasures of breast-feeding and, eventually, comfort.

I could go on and on. My reasons for smoking could be validated by science and psychology. I could claim that I am simply my father's daughter. The warnings on cigarette labels are not enough to stop my 10-year addiction and I didn't realize those years had passed by. 1 smoke and I am not proud of it.

But there are even more reasons to quit.

If I had saved my money instead of buying cigarettes, I could have shopped more. I could have sent myself to language school which could have been fun-learning, after all, is always fun and exciting. I did have fun learning how to make smoke rings. But to unlearn things takes more than knowledge. It takes courage, discipline, surrender and a lot of faith.

I can deprive myself of cigarettes for 20 minutes. If I could only stretch those minutes to 8 hours, I would rid my blood of carbon monoxide. If I could last 3 days without a cigarette, I would breathe better and smell better. I would taste things better and appreciate food more. If I could manage to stay away from cigarettes for the next 10 years, my risk of getting a stroke could be close to that of someone who never smoked, How about that!

Perhaps I smoke because it brings back fond memories of my father. Maybe I smoke because I am fascinated with creating smoke. All I know is that someday, I will have to make a choice. 

A study of 12 different clinical trials, together involving 104,196 people, has found that smokers who take betacarotene supplements have an increased risk of developing cancer- up to a 10% increase.

Although the type or cancer caused is varied, those of the lung, bladder, head and neck and upper gastrointestinal tract are the most frequently observed. Chief Cancer officer advises smokers to steer away from this supplement. "We know that this stuff (beta-carotene) induces cancer or, at least, is associated with a higher incidence rate.


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