Peterson: Smoking craving spurs renewed sigh of relief

Published: Friday, June 28, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

I am ashamed to admit this, but I want to smoke a cigarette.

There! It’s finally out there. Six words I’ve never wanted to say again: I want to smoke a cigarette.

But it’s best to get them off my chest – ironically encasing my lungs – and out in the open for all the world to see, including me. They are ugly words.

I wouldn’t know the number of years otherwise, but I quit smoking the year before my daughter was born, and she is 22 years old, so I have been cigarette-free for 23 years. I didn’t want our second child to be around a smoker, to know that Dad was holding her because she could smell the cigarettes on my hands and breath and clothes.

“Oh, yeah, that must be Dad,” she would think. “He smells like an ashtray.” Infants can be very perceptive.

I quit smoking for a number of reasons: It was bad for my health and those around me, including babies; it was expensive at more than a dollar a pack, which was my breaking point; you couldn’t smoke indoors anymore, and I remember the last cigarette I had at my desk, it was a late Saturday night; I had burned more than one hole in furniture and clothing – dang and ouch – respectively; I didn’t want to stand outside in weather fair or foul to smoke cigarettes; and nonsmokers looked down on you as pathetic, addicted to nicotine like a junkie.

What I liked: the nicotine high and the pleasure of taking a long drag. I was self-medicating.

But the breaking point was when my employer, for all the right reasons, banned smoking at our desks and relegated us to the lunchroom. But that wasn’t enough. We soon were being forced outdoors, and that was too much.

Even today, I feel sorry for the poor saps who are smoking their cigarettes 15 feet from the door when it is scorching hot, below zero, in the rain. And even today, more smokers are being forced outdoors, banned from nearly all public places, including bars, where cigarettes and alcohol go hand in hand.

And cigarettes are really expensive, like $4 and $5 a pack, what with all of the taxes that have been imposed on tobacco products. Taxes make up nearly 50 percent of the price of cigarettes in Illinois, according to Citizens for Tobacco Rights, a group that is dying on the vine, or is flourishing as the 18 percent of Americans who continue to smoke desperately cling to any organization that agrees with them.

The Legislature doubled the tax on cigarettes by a dollar last year, and according to Springfield’s State Journal-Register, the amount of new taxes was projected to be $350 million a year, but it will bring in only $212 million. The state wanted to discourage smoking by making it too expensive, but it was projecting that people would pay it anyway. If I’m the only one to see the failure in logic there, let me know. You want to increase revenue while decreasing the revenue stream. Hmm.

We watch TV shows and movies, and a lot of people in them are smoking cigarettes, and they seem to be enjoying themselves. This is particularly true of the series “Mad Men,” which is set in the 1960s, and just about everyone smokes just about everywhere just about all the time. Even when they are pregnant or after heart attacks or in bed. But they didn’t know any better.

All of this smoking is making me want to sneak a cigarette. Just one. Just to see what it’s like. Just to revisit the bad old days. Just to see.

But dreams keep me from smoking. Many former smokers have cigarette dreams. In them, I am inhaling a cigarette, and it seems so real, tastes so real, makes me feel so guilty. I’ve broken my pledge to never smoke again. And the dream comes with fear and disgust. Sometimes I wake up, and I can’t tell whether it was a dream or real. But it always comes with shame. Even if it’s just a dream.

Nevertheless, I find myself wanting that drag.

To quit smoking, I was hypnotized, and I didn’t even believe in hypnotism, but my employer was kind enough to help us quit smoking as it was moving us outside the building. I went for two sessions, and wouldn’t you know, it worked. No craving for cigarettes whatsoever.

If I felt like I wanted a cigarette, I was supposed to take a deep breath and blow it out, along with the urge to smoke. It worked. But I did a lot of sighing the first couple of years, like two packs a day worth.

So, when I get that urge for a cigarette – nicotine is powerful these decades later – I take a deep breath and blow it out. Sigh.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental health advocate, a freelance writer and former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be reached at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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