Well, amend that. It wasn't until the mid-'90s when I went on the anti-depressant, Wellbutrin (trade name for bupropion), that the cravings for nicotine left me for good. Bupropion is also marketed as Zyban, for smoking cessation. In my case Wellbutrin was working on two things at once.
Stock photo of a couple of 1960s GI’s firing up their gaspers.
I had smoked off and on as a teenager, mostly with friends, but could go days or weeks without a cigarette. I was sent to Germany by the U.S. Army in May, 1967. When I got to my duty station I bought two cartons of cigarettes for $1.70 each. Individual packs were 17¢. (You folks who are smokers now are paying around $5.00 a pack, mostly because of taxes. We had no taxes on our cigarettes bought in the PX.)
I remember the day 50 years ago I realized I was addicted to cigarettes. One evening we were on a field maneuver, and some old sarge gathered us around to talk to us. We had been listening to him talk for about a half hour when one of the guys couldn't stand it anymore and lit a cigarette. The sergeant told us, “Okay, if you want a smoke, go ahead and light up.” I lit up because I had a strong craving. I knew I was addicted. At that moment the nicotine drug had finally taken hold, and in a strange way I was relieved. No more playing around, I was a full-fledged smoker.
As is common with addictions, soon the addiction is running you and not the other way around. Until my wife got pregnant I had not intended to quit, or at least not quit until sometime in the future, but thinking of a baby growing up in a cloud of smoke (as I did, since my father was a smoker) made me determined to quit.
When I was a two-pack-a-day smoker it became a drag. Stinky cars, stinky clothes, stinky breath. Ugh. I wanted to change that. And then the writing was on the wall for all smokers. The clean air acts were being put into law, limiting where smokers could light up. The pariah status for smokers was slowly implemented over time.
When my doctors took my medical history and asked if I had ever smoked I told them I quit in 1977. As the years have gone by it seems less likely that there would be any lingering health effects. Maybe I’m wrong, but if I get lung cancer I don’t believe it will be as a result of my history of smoking half a century ago.
Over time we have learned that the companies that sold cigarettes were not only aware of the health risks and tried to deflect attention from them, but by careful study they knew exactly what the effects of the chemicals in cigarettes were doing to the human body.* They knew the mechanisms of nicotine addiction. One line that came from an employee of a big tobacco company stayed with me when he described cigarettes as “a nicotine delivery system.” Big Tobacco is a legal death dealer, and has never been made to pay the full price for its deadly deception and being the cause of thousands of deaths per year. There is nothing I can do about that but tell people not to start smoking just because you want to be cool, or look like all of the dopes who smoke in movies and TV shows.
*The Big Book of Vice is one of a series of “Factoids, ” drawn comics style, and published by Paradox Press, a division of DC Comics. A chapter in the book is devoted to tobacco and cigarettes. One four-page section of that chapter is about the tobacco companies that sacrificed their fellow citizens for profits. It is written by Steve Vance, and drawn by Seth Fisher.
Copyright © 1999 Steve Vance and Seth Fisher