My friend, you have smoked cigarettes for as long as I can remember.
And I have hated it for just as long.
I hope you will believe me when I tell you that this is not intended as judgement. It’s not about preaching “right” from “wrong” to you. It’s your body and you have every right to do exactly with it as you wish, just as I do with mine.
As it happens, I have never smoked and so I will never truly know the way this particular addiction holds you in its unrelenting grasp. I can’t comprehend the blissful release it brings you with that first morning mouthful. I’ve seen it on your face though. Watched your stresses melt away and your hands stop shaking through a curling halo of white smoke.
Sometimes I even envy your sigh of ecstasy as you exhale all of your worries.
I have been addicted in other ways of course, mostly to people. Maybe it’s my own addiction to you that makes me value your health so intensely. It’s selfish of me really. I love you to the end of the earth and I want to keep you around for as long as I possibly can.
I’m afraid of losing you.
I’m not going to ask you to quit here, not unless you want to. You won’t stick with it unless the longing burns fiercely within you anyway. All of the pleading and nagging in the world is no substitute for your own desire for change.
As such, I can only tell you how I experience you as a smoker and ask that you reflect on what it means to those who adore you the next time you light up.
You remember that last puff you scrounged off a friend outside the bar?
You were huddled up against the cold, like naughty school kids united in mischief; a pair of comrades against the big bad world. That puff meant that as we ran together through tranquil woodland paths, you didn’t hear the satisfying crunch of crisp leaves beneath our feet as you wheezed by. Your jagged breathing and hacking cough replaced the serenade of blackbirds overhead, nature’s symphony drowned out by your protesting lungs.
You were doubled over, hands on hips, struggling to catch your breath in the bright morning light. You looked down at the ground, gasping and spluttering, instead of up into the glorious cobalt sky where the winter sun was waiting to kiss your face. You didn’t notice the way that the frost gently dusted the hedgerows, nor the shimmering brook that babbled on quietly nearby.
I was sad that the fresh country air failed to nourish and energize you as I hoped it would.
The cigarette you mashed into the ashtray just now?
That one meant that when I nuzzled my face into your hair when I hugged you, I couldn’t find the beautiful scent that you naturally radiate. Your incense that ignites a thousand memories in one glorious inhale. Instead, a stale festering impostor crept in and stole that comforting sense of you from my waiting nose.
I was choked by you; forced to turn my face away. I felt robbed of you.
That last packet you emptied, incredulous that twenty could be gone already?
It meant that when you stroked my face with your usual bright affection, you traced my skin with a yellow tar stained finger, a permanent reminder of the choice that you make again and again. I wonder if you can still feel my softness beneath that tacky layer and whether there will always be this barricade between our touching skin.
The cheap carton you brought at duty free?
You were so pleased with your bargain, grinning with delirious glee. Yet, It cost you so more than you ever realized; more than money.
It cost you your smile, your most beautiful feature, capable of transforming your face into a picture of heaven. Already your laughter is tainted by stained brown teeth and puckered wrinkles around once luscious lips. Did no one tell you that no matter how beautiful you are, receding gums and ashtray breath will never be sexy?
The price will always feel far too high for me.
I long to free you from the prison of smoking that holds you, the reliance you have on something to get you through your day. I know that It’s not my battle to fight. I see in your eyes, the constant planning of when you will next get to indulge your craving, rather than being present in the moment to focus on what you are doing or who you are with.
To be beholden to anything in this world makes me cagey in my own quest for freedom and I want more for you.
What saddens me the most is that smoking pretends to be about rebellion. Yet from where I stand, it looks an awful lot like desperation. Desperation to fit in. To be part of the “in crowd,” to fill an emptiness inside, to de-stress. A lot of my friends have told me that they started smoking young for these exact reasons and have regretted it ever since.
I wish I could have told them, and you, that the person who follows the crowd gets no further than where the crowd are going. You can follow your own path and make your own choices, even now.
That path might still involve a cigarette, but then again, it might not.