Four months ago my boyfriend Kevan decided that we were going to quit smoking together. After four months of daily discussions of how much we were craving a smoke, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of us will succeed and one won’t. Today I cheated and had a cigarette. Kevan has been fine since he got the nicotine out of his system. I’m not. For me, it was never the nicotine to begin with—it was the benefits. Yes, benefits. There are benefits to smoking that only a smoker or ex-smoker could understand and that’s what I miss the most.
The first benefit is the networking. This is best understood in an office environment. The smokers have a club that crosses all departments and all levels. I work for a large Midwestern financial services organization. There are five hundred people in my building and there are many people in other departments like accounting and legal that I know that I would not know otherwise, except that we’ve shared a dry spot under a tent at 3:15 on a rainy Monday afternoon talking about movies and inhaling nicotine for fifteen minutes. This is how I met the office transsexual, “Melissa,” a 200 pound broad shouldered permed blond who frequently wore black leather skirts and low cut sleeveless blouses to work. The very first time I heard Melissa talk about her life I was hooked. We were in the smoking tent in the patio outside the cafeteria.
“My ex girlfriend and I had a psychic connection. She could tell when I wanted something to drink and she would just go get it for me. After we broke up, I got mad at her and put a hex on her so that she would never find anyone who loves her again.” She was talking to another woman whom I didn’t know who wasn’t really paying attention to her.
“Hex?” I interrupted. I couldn’t help myself.
“Yeah, I’m a witch and I have psychic abilities.” Holy shit, she was serious. I didn’t quite know what to make of her, but I was intrigued so I would seek her out any time I was outside. Melissa was one of the few other people who didn’t think I was a freak for my interest in the supernatural.
“So Melissa, why can’t I see ghosts?” I was into this ghost phase and I had been reading a ton of books about spirits, but I have never personally had an experience. I didn’t really expect her to have an answer.
“Look into my eyes,” she commanded. I stared into her pale blue warm eyes for a long pause. “It will happen. It’s not your time yet. When the time is right, you’ll see. You’re not ready yet.” Somehow, I believed her.
Melissa eventually moved to another building, and I lost touch with her. If she came back to our building, I would probably take up smoking just to talk to her again.
There is no typical smoker, so by meeting other smokers, I was meeting a wide variety of people. The CFO of my company smokes and because of an innocuous conversation about Easton two years ago during a smoke break, we are now on a ‘hello in the hallway’ acquaintance.
Even if you are on a smoke break with people you already know from your own department, there is something about the environment that leads to disclosure. If you smoke as well and you happen to be out on the patio at the same time, you are going to be privy to some pretty juicy information.
“Melissa almost got fired today, she leaned over Brian’s desk and her boob fell out.” I try not to look at Holly’s gray teeth as she leans down to whisper. “Brian was so mad—he reported it to HR right away.”
“How did you find this out?” I suspected Holly found out from Brian on a different smoke break—he was a fellow smoker. “Why would Brian care? He’s gay.” Everyone knew Brian was gay, mostly because he would openly check out other guys at work.
“Apparently gay men don’t like transsexuals. Anyways—he can’t stand her.”
“Melissa doesn’t even like guys, she likes girls.” I knew this because Melissa had told me about her many girlfriends on one of our smoke breaks.”Well anyways, she has a few days off without pay.” Holly shrugged and walked towards the ashtray to put her cigarette out.
“I can’t believe Brian would report it.” I swiped my badge to get in the door.
“He thinks she did it on purpose.” We both shrugged and parted until the next break.
Being a smoker at the right time is almost as good as the proverbial ‘fly on the wall’—during that first rush of nicotine, most people spill their guts. Many people choose to smoke with they are pissed off about something. It doesn’t work to just go out and stand and not smoke with someone who is smoking. There is something that bonds the two smokers. It’s US against THEM.
Because smoking is so unpopular now, there is a band-together mentality with smokers. We are a dying breed. No pun intended. You can get a seat quickly in a restaurant now in the smoking section because no one wants to sit there anymore. I don’t sit in smoking anymore because I can’t stand the smell, but mostly because I’m fiercely jealous of the after-dinner light up.
A lot of ex-smokers complain about the weight gain that had as a result of quitting. There are some statistics about nicotine and it being an appetite suppressant but I don’t think that’s the real reason that people gain weight. When I was a smoker I always ended my meal with a cigarette. Now that I don’t smoke, I don’t know when the meal has ended and I keep eating. You can ask just about any smoker: If you have 10 minutes in the car before you have to be somewhere, would you rather smoke or eat? I know that I would chose smoking over food most of the time. Parties are the worst because there is so much food to nibble on. When I smoke, I don’t have the desire to nibble because I’ve been occupied with smoking.
While we are talking about our bodies, I would like to say that I also think I had better breath when I was a smoker. All smokers, when they hear this, smile and nod. Literally, was my breath better? Maybe not. But when I smoked, I was so much more conscious of having bad breath from smoking that I took greater steps to make sure my breath was clean. I always had gum or mints. Secondary to that, of course, was that smoking ruins your sense of smell, so if I did have bad breath, I couldn’t smell my own breath anyway.
When you smoke, you will always be prepared with a lighter for candles and concerts. Also, smoking also offers a conversation starter in public places for smokers and non smokers alike.
“Do I smell cloves? It reminds me of church.”
“Who is smoking cloves? Oh it’s you. I used to smoke those in high school.”
“Does anyone have a light?”
“Those smell so good. I can’t stand regular cigarettes, but those are ok.”
“What is that smell? It smells like pot.”
“What is that god-awful smell?”
Perhaps the saddest benefit to smoking is that it really did give me something to look forward to. At my last job my friend and I had times where we would go for a smoke break every day. Ten-thirty, after lunch and three o’clock. Sometimes there would be ten or fifteen of us who would all go outside at the same time.
TO: All Smokers
From: Elizabeth Miles
Message: 3:15 on the patio. It’s a beautiful day. Be there!
There really isn’t the enjoyment factor with anything else since I have quit smoking. It was a tiny perk, but a perk all the same. It was something to look forward to. “Let’s go get a cup of coffee!!!” doesn’t quite have the same punch. Shit, I don’t even like coffee.
So here I am, teetering on the edge of four months smoke free. I’m fifteen pounds fatter and I don’t feel any healthier at all. It seems like you should feel a difference if it’s going to be rewarding. Today, though, the lone cigarette has had a lasting effect. I can’t get the cigarette smell out of my hands. I can smell it now because I’ve regained my sense of smell. I swear my eyes are irritated. My stomach is queasy and I have heartburn. My throat is scratchy and I have this dry cough that I haven’t had in … well… four months. My body has rebelled this relapse. I feel horrible. So why do I want another?
Author: Elizabeth Miles has a Master’s degree in Journalism and Communication from The Ohio State University. She began smoking once more within a week ofwhen her boyfriend (now husband) started smoking again. She plans to quit smoking “eventually.” She is currently working on a collection of stories about smoking and it’s effect on our everyday lives. She still has never seen a ghost.