‘James Anonymous’: How I successfully quit smoking after 18 years

The other day I was running errands and happened to be stopped at a traffic light, next to a car that looked like a testing ground for lung cancer.

Everyone was smoking in the car…there were five people. And, a couple of them looked to be chain smoking, so there were constant puffs of smoke coming from the vehicle.

They were all younger males, probably under or right around 20 years old. For a moment I thought of how I had been a smoker for many years…and how I quit.

I wrote about the experience of quitting for my James Anonymous weblog:

Monday, November 24, 2008

Entry 3570: My ‘Au Revoir’ to Smoking

As I have been reconnecting with old friends, several questions have arisen…and stories have been told that answer those questions. It has occurred to me that, rather than tell the same story several (or more) times, I should just tell the stories “on here”. So, that is what I will do…starting with the story of how I was able to successfully quit smoking.

I started the dirty habit in 1980 when a friend bought a pack of Merit cigarettes at a bar and was clowning around with them. Since we were drinking it seemed natural so I smoked a few, and at the end of the night he gave them to me. The next day when I awoke I saw the Merits, and you know the old expression–smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. Well, I did, for 18 years.

In 1991 when I started traveling for my first route sales job it was a tough habit to get rid of, not that I wanted to in those days anyway. There was mile after mile of driving, sometimes for hours…and you soon learn that smoking can be an appetite suppressant, which means you stop a lot less. It also helps to lessen the monotony.

In the course of various route sales jobs I’ve spent significant time traveling alongside the Colorado River…for those that don’t know, the Colorado separates Arizona from both Nevada (to the north) and California (a little farther south). It is a brilliant jade color…to tell of my affection for the Colorado River is to create another entry altogether, and is therefore for another time.

To continue…while traveling I would usually have business in Bullhead City, AZ, and I would stay just across that great river at the Edgewater Hotel and Casino in Laughlin, NV. As is true in pretty much ANY major Nevada casino, gambling is featured, and great hotel rooms can be had cheaply and huge food buffets are the norm. They want you to stay as long as possible, and gamble…so, cheap but good eats and comfortable accommodations are attractive options for travelers.

Well, late one night toward the end of August 1998 i was playing Blackjack and had run out of cigarettes. Now, the drinks are always free as long as you are at a table and gambling, and in past days the waitresses would also get you free cigarettes…the casinos don’t want you to interrupt the vacuuming-out of your wallet and bank account (read: gambling) so you can go and get things like those. PLUS…drinking impairs your decision-making capabilities, and some say cigarettes enhance that impaired-ness. But, I guess as the amount of non-smokers has grown and costs have risen, that free cigarette service has gone away.

So…I ran out of cigarettes. And, after a little while, I also ran out of money…at least, what I wanted to spend. It was late, about 3 am…so I decided I would get a pack on the way to my room, which was on the 17th floor. There was a 24 hour convenience store there off the casino that was right by the elevator…which turned out to be, as it happened, a twenty-THREE hour convenience store–because, that’s right, as I was going back to the room they were closed for lunch–“Closed until 3:45 am,” actually.

I wasn’t coming back down 17 floors after waiting 45 minutes just to get them. So, no cigarettes. Plus, I was likely just going right to bed when I got upstairs…so I wasn’t going to smoke any more that night anyway.

i had been wanting to quit…it gets kind of hard to smoke here in the desert southwest when it’s really hot, because the air is already really hot, and the idea of inhaling more hot gases (that also just so happen to be toxic) into one’s lungs was losing its appeal…and I had gotten it down to just smoking at night when I would have a few drinks and “think about the day’s events.” So when I awoke I knew that I wouldn’t be lighting up, and wouldn’t miss smoking until later on that evening when I would have my traditional two or three evening cocktails.

So…when I awoke I began my day as expected .One of my stops that day was just south of Laughlin, near Fort Mohave, AZ…it was a convenience store owned and operated by the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT). Indian stores like this are very popular places to buy cigarettes and tobacco products, because the reservations are exempt from many federal and state rules, regulations and taxes, so they are able to sell tobacco products for much less. However, the federal government had passed a bill that was going into law on September 1 bringing a huge increase to cigarettes and all tobacco products, starting at about $1.10 a pack. They weren’t going to be exempt from this one.

That new tax was starting today, which was September 1.

I get to the store and there are many Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs and Buicks with license plates from Nevada and California and of course Arizona in the parking lot. In those days cellphone use was rare–instead, there’s a line on the side of the building outside by the pay phone that was made up of older retired gentlemen waiting to use it.

They’re all there to buy cartons of cigarettes, brand name ones, too…they’ve showed up with around $200, hoping to get 10 cartons at about $20 a carton…only now, they’re like $35-45 a carton…what to do? So…they’re each waiting their turn to call home and check with their wives as to what to do. Should they get the same brand? A cheaper one?

I laughed hard. I was very amused.

There was a large Colorado River Indian man named Warren that worked inside. “Sorry, but I think this is all hilarious. I know it hurts your business, so please don’t be offended”, I told him. “They’ve only been talking about raising the tax on tobacco for months now.”

Warren’s response was that the store–and the CRIT–would still do okay. If anything, they would sell even MORE cigarettes, as the off-brands used lesser quality tobacco and more filler, so one of those cigarettes would be less satisfying than a name-brand one. This meant more cigarettes for the same smoking experience.

“People can’t quit…or don’t want to. That’ll keep us selling them no matter how much they are”, he said.

I laughed again and said it was enough for me. “I just quit!”

Any time after that, when I would get the urge to have one, I would remember how the moments were structured such that I was able to quit, and then given good reason to do so.

“Well, James,” you say, “what about cigars? Haven’t you mentioned here that you like a good cigar, and a strong 7&7, when you write?”

Cigars are a whole ‘nother story, my friend. It’s not the same. Since 1977, before I smoked anything else, I’ve enjoyed cigars. And, although there are still some health risks, I probably always will.

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