SIMONE VIRZI — Copy Editor
In a Public Health class my sophomore year of college, we passed a lung around the room – a black cancerous lung. Most kids in the class passed it along without giving it a second glance as if it were a hot potato. Then there’s me. I probably examined it for a good three minutes. Images of black lungs are supposed to scare smokers out of picking up another cigarette because this is what you’re doing to your lungs. I, however, was simply fascinated by it. Perhaps I should have pursued a career in the medical field.
Cigarette packs (by law) used to state: “Surgeon General’s Warning: Smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and may complicate pregnancy.” It has now been simplified to “Surgeon General’s Warning: Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health.” For a little while, small booklets were inside the pack wrapper about quitting smoking, although most people I know threw them out without giving it a second thought. Anti-smoking commercials are often on TV, encouraging people to know the truth about these companies and about how to quit smoking. If you do a Google Images search on lung cancer, I can promise you the pictures are gory; I’m sure many people don’t have the stomach for them. And yet, none of these things bothered me enough to quit.
Even as the price of cigarettes continued to rise (thank you Connecticut), I still found the money. I’d spend less on drinks at a club or I’d try to spend as little money as possible when going shopping or ordering out. Maybe that sounds extreme, but it’s true. After a certain point, cigarettes become a part of life, and I would only realize how essential cigarettes were when I occasionally ran out.
I had tried quitting multiple times, but there’s something about being on campus that stresses me out. I feel like each semester gets harder, and my coping method is cigarettes. I figured it’s better than being a stress eater, sitting quietly in a corner on the floor consuming three boxes of Girl Scout cookies. I also used cigarettes as a form of reward. Say I had to write an essay or a story for one of my journalism classes but had zero motivation. I would tell myself I can’t have a cigarette until I’m done. So I’d sit at my desk and try to focus on the assignment, knowing I’d have a cigarette when I’m done.
My rationale was I would quit after college. But what if I made the same excuses I had been: “oh school stresses me out” or “work stresses me out.” I was thinking I had no hope in sight and that the cycle would never be broken. After all, it’s a thousand times easier to say, “I’m going to quit!” than actually doing it. It’s like saying “I’m going on a diet— starting Monday,” every week for two months, until you forget about the diet all together.
I have friends who were real smokers, and friends who only smoked when they were drinking. I envied the latter friends. I would love to know what it’s like to have a couple cigarettes a week, or to go for days without having or craving one. But I knew I would never know what that is like. In addition to self-diagnosing myself as having OCD, I also believe I have an addictive personality. I knew with cigarettes it would have to be all or nothing.
I didn’t quit because cigarettes are expensive, or because I could potentially get cancer somewhere down the road, or because my dad had a heart attack in his early 40s. I quit because I realized it could really affect my skin. At almost 21, a lot of people think I’m younger than I really am, which often annoys me. However, I’d rather look too young than too old. Take a look at Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards. He looks about 20 years older than he actually is. Granted, drugs don’t help, but neither do cigarettes.
Are there times I’ll see someone smoking or find myself stressed and think “I would really go for a cigarette!?” Absolutely. Every day is a struggle, but I try to find ways to relieve stress. I go to the gym instead of buying a pack. If I’m going to become a cougar when I’m older, I need to still be hot and not look like someone’s grandmother.