Saturday, July 08, 2006


Ask me to talk to someone about kicking his smoking habit and I wouldn’t do it.

First of all, I was once in his position — the more people would tell me to stop smoking, the more I would light up a cigarette; not out of defiance, but because just the thought of how tough it is to quit would only make me light up another stick.

Actually, any form of challenge to any smoker, be it cerebral or physical, would be a good enough trigger to make him reach for a cigarette. When playing a pick-up game of basketball with a smoker, ever noticed the more exhausted he got, the more he craved for a cigarette? That’s the way it is with someone with a nicotine addiction.

Almost everyone knows nicotine does not stimulate relaxation; on the contrary it shocks the system. Why do you think smokers must have a cigarette when going to the bathroom in the morning? That is because nicotine jolts the system into inducing a bowel movement without resorting to the hemorrhoid-causing birthing push.

Neither does smoking make one look cool and unperturbed. Reaching for a cigarette is more often a dead giveaway that one is undergoing stress at that moment.

Nicotine addiction is not selective and would just as easily afflict anyone. I know a couple of successful doctors — one a pediatrician, the other a heart specialist — who, to this day, smoke more than a pack of cigarettes everyday. Even our young people — despite of frequent public awareness campaigns about the perils of smoking and breathing second hand smoke — would still light up or hang out at crowded arenas filled with this lethal fume.

For me, it all started back in high school when my friends and I would light up a cigarette as pang patapang or to embolden ourselves when about to meet with some girls from another school, or as a prop to our macho posturing — pang porma — at a school dance or private party. And before I knew it, it was 20 years later and now seriously addicted to it.

How bad was it? Well, immediately upon getting up from bed every morning, the very first thing I would do is reach for a cigarette. At work, there were times I would light up only to realize a couple of seconds later that I still have a half-smoked cigarette burning on the ashtray. I was to discover later on that this whole motion of reaching for a cigarette and lighting it are integral parts of the entire nicotine addiction process.

There was also the incident of once waking up at 3:00 o’clock in the morning only to realize I had already smoked my last cigarette earlier before I went to bed. What happened next, to this day, would embarrass me to share with anyone: I went through the butts that had collected on the ashtray, including the ones already dumped in the trash can, looking for maybe a half-smoked stick. When none was found, I hurriedly put on my sweater, pants, boots and overcoat to look for an open store in the neighborhood. It was in the midst of a dreadful New York winter with the howling wind dragging down the outside temperature way below zero. I must have walked an hour with about seven inches of snow and ice on the ground until I finally found a 24-hour deli.

Yet, going through that horrendous experience was not a good enough incentive for me to consider quitting; it only made me better prepared. That is, even with still half a pack of cigarettes in my pocket, I would now buy an extra pack before going home. I was, in effect, in the stocking up mode of my drug, or whatever it was that would get me through the night. In this particular case, cigarettes.

Be that as it may, like other heavy smokers, I had made a number of attempts to quit — from cold turkey to moderate cessation with the use of an electronic gadget — but to no avail. I even tried the nicotine patch but only to discover my skin was allergic to its adhesive. Eventually, I’ve become totally resigned to the idea that I would live the rest of my life as a nicotine addict — a life of incessant dry coughing, horrible skin, bad breath, smoker’s lines around my mouth and a severely cracked voice.

However, such dismal personal resolve came to a sudden end when one morning I woke up with a distinct sense that my body no longer wanted it. As if miraculously, that morning, I stopped just like that. Although every now and then, to this day, I would dream I was once again a heavy smoker and would wake up deeply troubled by it. Nonetheless, on that fateful morning, I never — not even once — craved again for a cigarette.

After about a year of being a non-smoker, while at a bar having a couple of rounds with co-workers to celebrate our bonus, I tested myself and lit up a cigarette. I immediately coughed after a subtle inhale. I held on to the stick anyway and after two minutes tried to inhale again. I coughed again in response. I realized that not only had I gotten over the psychological need for cigarettes, but my body was, in effect, rejecting nicotine altogether.

That night at the bar, I also noticed how awkward I’ve become when holding a cigarette — I was now waving it like a piece of French fry while engaged in some animated conversation; unlike in the past when I used to hold it the way Humphrey Bogart did — with an air of confidence, style and charm. At least, that was the image I thought I exuded.

It was a Friday night and before heading home from that bar, I stopped by St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue to light up a candle. It was my offering of sincere appreciation to the higher power that helped me lick my nicotine addiction. That was what it was — like someone ravaged by alcoholism, I needed help from a higher power to duke it out of my system. It was, in essence, a soul thing.

Unarguably, despite my having a history of intense addiction to nicotine, I feel it would be utterly presumptuous and condescending of me to suggest to a smoker to quit. And especially since not knowing an iota about his inner self, how dare I intrude and tell him how to deal with the vast emptiness that he feels inside of him?

It may just be a cigarette to anyone, but the grasp it has on a smoker’s life runs deep. I should know; I was once enslaved by it.

However, for those who may know someone struggling to kick his smoking habit, I suggest not to attack the cigarette itself at first, because smoking may be the symptom of the problem and not the problem itself. Instead, find a way to help the smoker sort out and resolve any deep-seated issues that may be underneath it all. And who knows? Just like what happened to me, this smoker you know might just suddenly stop one day and never crave for it ever again.

This post inspired by Jairam's Non-smoking Please

Photo credit: Baylor College of Medicine

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posted by Señor Enrique at 12:34 PM


Blogger j said...

Thank you Senor for the special mention.
I didn't know you were into it that deep - like looking for a half-smoked stick. It must have been dreadful! Congratulations for quitting.
You are an inspiration to your readers. :)
Take care and have a great weekend!

July 08, 2006 1:32 PM  

Blogger NeiLDC said...

This year, spain prohibits smoking in any workplace are, thanks that my co workers here in the office they dont smoke so it was a healthy environment though. anyway.. congratulations then if you could stop smoking. welcome to the Gang of non smokers!

July 08, 2006 6:41 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Oh, Jairam, I wouldn't wish on anyone what I've gone through as a heavy smoker.

BTW, after not smoking for quite some time, I asked my other brother if I really smelled of cigarettes -- my hair, my breath, my clothes, everything -- whenever I got in his car. Instantaneously he said, "Yes." When I asked why he didn't tell me he said, "Because you might feel too embarrassed by it and not spend anymore weekends with your nephews and niece." It was that bad.

Thanks also, Jairam, for your post which spurred me to share this experience of mine with others.

July 09, 2006 7:51 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I was so glad, Neil, that I had quit before NYC imposed a ban on smoking inside commercial buildings and etc. Otherwise, I would have been one of those people with no coats on-- shiverring in the cold outside --just to have a quick smoke. NYC, I think, had even specified certain areas outdoors where one can smoke. And of course, no more smoking in restaurants, bars and etc.

They might have similar laws here in the Philippines, but not that sure. I know no one is allowed to smoke inside the jeepneys anymore.

Thanks, Neil, and I'm glad to join the Gang of non-smokers!

July 09, 2006 7:58 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations on kicking the habit. I've also heard from co-workers how hard it is to quit. You gave us a vivid illustration of your experience. Now I understand better what it's really like.

My husband also used to smoke, not heavily, but he did. But when he came here in Canada, he quit right away. He realized that he was burning his hard-earned money whenever he lit a cigarette.

July 09, 2006 10:38 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I'm happy to know, Niceheart, that your husband was able to quit smoking without much difficulty because it is really tough.

I just heard that there are now vaccines being developed to help smokers quit. That would be wonderful.

July 09, 2006 11:06 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

when i started working i bought 3 packs of cigarette...philip morris, marlboro and hope (hehehe)... i thought the bogart way of holding a cigarette was cool not the collegiala's grip (which i find real funny)... i puffed 3 sticks and disliked them all... unfortunately my younger brother found the packs and he got the habit for a while (ahhh... bad sister i turned out to be)

Good thing you quit smoking, the smell really does stay on you and it isn't good at all, especially for the one beside you...

July 10, 2006 9:34 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great for you to share your experience Senor Enrique. I hope people can learn from it, that smoking does nothing good to the body. I agree that one must not attack the cigarette but the reason why the person smokes. In my case I tried smoking but my throat just doesn't like it. It feels scratchy when I wake up in the morning and I keep on coughing. I just felt that my body wasn't normal.

My dad smoked for 30 years and quit when he was fifty. He lived on for another 37 years. It's never too late to quite smoking!

July 10, 2006 10:00 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Believe it or not, Anonymous, but the Hollywood movies have profound influence on our youth culture to get into smoking.

Glad that you and your brother didn't get heavily involved in this filthy habit.

July 11, 2006 8:10 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

The biggest fear among smokers is that they will gain weight if they stopped smoking, BW. But come to think of it, controlling one's desirable weight level is a lot more manageable than one's nicotine craving.

Yes, I've met others like you whose system just don't acclimate well with nicotine and never pursued it. And congrats to you, too, for doing the right thing, BW!

July 11, 2006 8:15 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I felt this post was actually referring specifically to me and my smoking problem. That's how strong a smoker I am, evn right now eric. You are so lucky you had that miraculous resolve, just waking up one morning and not having smoke a single cigarrette ever again.

I use to apply a lot of methods before like eating candies and chocolates everytime I felt the need to smoke. Some have advise me to find some other hobby where I could spend my cigarrette money and that hobby might overcome my smoking habit. I tried constant exercises and somehow, I was able to last long but in a month's time, I'd be back to the old habit again.

Maybe, it's time to seek the guidance of the Lord on this and hope He could help me like He had on you...

July 11, 2006 2:04 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

That was exactly what I did, Major Tom.

And every time I lit a cigarette, I would admit how powerless I was to it and then ask for His help. As said, “Ask and you shall receive.” I received the help I was seeking on that fateful morning 14 years ago when I suddenly stopped craving for a cigarette.

When you’ve embarked on that journey and need others for support, Major Tom, count me in. Just email me.

July 11, 2006 8:02 PM  

Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

As a mostly non-smoker for most of my life, I am thankful that most societies are now giving US some consideration. As bad as I feel for smokers trying to quit, I used to hate them for making me choke on their exhaust, and without a care that I was so discomfitted.

In the mid-60s, virtually everyone smoked. I remember riding a bus full of young airmen on a goodwill mission where we were stationed in Turkey taking food to an orphanage. I was 9, the only kid on the bus. The smoke was so thick that my eyes swelled shut and filled involuntarily with tears and I retched with nausea. I lay flat on the floor of the bus trying to find some semi-breatheable air. Those young men just laughed at me. Thank God those days are LONG gone!

July 12, 2006 9:58 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Yes Phil, I'm also glad that non-smokers are now being protected more against second hand smoke through various city, state and federal legislations.

As bad as I was with my smoking habit, I remained respectful of others by not smoking in a non-smoking household, cars, or near or around children. Somehow I was cognizant of the dangers that came with my addiction and I didn't want to harm anyone by it.

Here in Manila, there are folks who would lit up with no concern for others, even at restaurants with posted no smoking signs. In such cases, I would just turn back and not eat there, or ask the waiter to find us another table farther away from the smokers.

July 13, 2006 9:48 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Eric! Wow, your narration of the ordeal (no other word for it but I felt it was that - an ordeal! LOL) that you went through brought back memories of my own smoking days. Thankfully, I never experienced waking up at an unholy hour and collecting stubs - I laughed out loud when I read this - but I saw a brother doing that and I know of at least 3 other friends who did that too so, if it's any consolation to you, you're not alone.

I smoked for about 18 years. I averaged 3 packs a day (Marlboro regular then Philip MOrris then back to Marlboro then imported - smuggled - Marlboro lights) but in my last 2 years, I smoked almost 5 packs a day. I remember telling a friend when she asked why I had to smoke so many cigarettes while poring over my law books (I was then reviewing for the Bar and that's when my consumption upped to 5 packs a day) and my explanation was: each time I inhale, I feel like all that I have read goes right into my head. Ha ha ha! Such a stupid explanation but ...

Once, I suddenly threw up and I was alarmed to see blood - nearly half a cup! It continued the whole day (about 4 or 5 more times) and I had to be hospitalized. The doc said I had esophagitis and I should stop smoking. I stopped seeing him. But 4 years after that, I woke up after a major operation (not related to esophagitis) and just decided to quit smoking. I don't know why and how I did it - to this day, I have no explanation. That was almost 14 years ago and I'm just so happy and thankful I was able to "set myself free."

Thanks for sharing this post with us.

August 12, 2006 1:00 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I'm so happy for you, too, bugsybee! Smoking is indeed a horrible habit yet tough to break. And what happened to you that time you finally stopped may be the same experience I had.

Mabuhay, Bugsybee!

August 12, 2006 7:59 PM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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