Today, I've gone 18 years without smoking a cigarette.
I wish I had the thousands of dollars I've saved from ending this expensive addiction. Instead, I have to be content with my good health and a better rate on my life insurance.
Like most smokers, I started as a teen, sneaking cigarettes from the packs of my aunts, uncles and parents' friends. My parents never smoked, and it was the one vice they preached against. Of course, that made me want to do it more.
I still recall the sensation of those first cigarettes, when I was possibly 13 or 14. It was not at all enjoyable, but I kept up the habit, although irregularly, until I was 16. That's when my parents would go on long trips in the winter and leave me alone in our house. It was an opportunity for bad habits to develop.
That also was the age when I decided to become a journalist. In 1972, the image of a newspaperman still included cigarettes and a flask of bourbon in the desk drawer. Today, it's yogurt and bottled water.
My steady smoking began as a college freshman and continued for 11 years. I can truly say I enjoyed it. I never developed a cough, like most smokers. Smoking was both relaxing and invigorating. You cannot say that about many drugs.
I smoked at least a pack a day during those years, especially after I started working full time in newspapers at 22. It was a great companion to a job that requires patience. Waiting for people to call you back? Light a cigarette. Pondering a lead sentence? Light a cigarette. Nervous about meeting your deadline? Light another cigarette, or two, or 20.
It didn't matter that I could see the ravages of smoking every day in the newsroom around me.
A features editor, an older woman whom I liked and looked up to, developed lung cancer and was gone in five months. She was 58, and had smoked several packs a day. Her ashtray was always brimming with butts. She often lit one while another was still burning.
The gray hair on the older men in the newsroom was yellow, and they could barely climb stairs without wheezing.
I buried these images in the back of my mind.
One September Saturday morning, I ran out of cigarettes. My wife was not ready to leave for our weekly shopping trips.
Smokers don't like to run out of cigarettes. I was ready to drive to the convenience store, pay an exorbitant price for a pack of smokes and return to our apartment to pick her up.
Then I wondered how long I could go without a cigarette. I had a box of Nicorette my doctor had prescribed to me months before, but I had not used.
I was tired of my addiction controlling my life. It was time to take control, and I've never gone back. It was not easy. In fact, it was the most difficult thing I've done.
Another incentive was the fact we were going to try to have our first child, and I didn't want to smoke around my pregnant wife and future baby.
For years, I missed smoking, but now it seems like a hazy memory, and I plan to keep it that way.
Ron Wayne is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at 244-3400, ext. 229, or e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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