The Next Cigarette

Another attempt to wean myself from the nicotine monster. This time it's serious - really

I promised a sequel to my other piece on quitting smoking, and here it is. Four months ago, and for 10 entire days, I stopped again - after starting to smoke again after the last time I'd quit (for seven and a half years ), which was after I had smoked (for about 30 years ) as though the cigarette manufacturers were liable at any time to suddenly stop producing what had become a breath of fresh air for me.

Three days after I had changed, according to the leader of the workshop I attended back in October, from someone who has "quit smoking" to being a "non-smoker," the time came, as it does every week, for me to write a column for this newspaper. The transition from "quit smoking" to "non-smoker" marks a personality change. Those who are actually cured of the habit, we workshop participants were informed, are those who stop by means of willpower, out of a feeling that they have to give up something. They will always long for the cigarettes and the nicotine they see as forbidden pleasures.

The non-smokers, on the other hand, act like people who have never smoked before, who don't see cigarettes as some miracle that, for example, makes them concentrate better, calms them down and improves their mood. After all, every person understands that if he offers his nervous non-smoking friend a cigarette so that he'll calm down, there's no chance the non-smoker will accept the offer. And if he is tempted to try the first cigarette of his life, he will only feel suffocated and nauseated. For you see, cigarettes can have a calming effect only on someone who is addicted to nicotine and feels its absence. They can help the concentration only of someone who can't concentrate if he is craving a cigarette, and who can only focus properly on what he is supposed to be doing when the need for nicotine dies down, for 40 minutes or an hour or two.

Three days after I quit, while I was still convinced that the desired personality change had finally taken place and that soon, perhaps, I would begin to eat spelt regularly and maybe even do aerobic exercises - I thus decided, out of the infinite goodness of my heart, to share with you all the good things that happened to me after that six-hour workshop, and I did in fact write a column in that spirit.

Seven days later, when the column was published, I was flooded with encouraging and amazed reactions. People wrote to my private e-mail and to my Facebook page, asked my advice, told me about their experiences, and ended with comments like "Good for you," and "Be strong." This caused me a certain discomfort in light of the fact that in the period between writing the column and its publication, I had once again changed from being a "non-smoker" to "someone who has resumed smoking" - which, according to simple logic, leads to the conclusion that in effect I never actually was a "non-smoker," because it's impossible to resume something that didn't exist in the first place. This means that I had hoped to strengthen people and emerged a liar and a loser.

Meanwhile, in order not to sow despair among the nation - although I promised to produce a sequel to that column - I decided to stop writing about the subject, at least until I attended the so-called reinforcement workshop offered by the institute I went to last time. I was told that the second workshop, too, includes only a lecture, without superfluous confessions on the part of the participants about how they lapsed into smoking. Without trying to create an atmosphere of mutual support, without talk about dangers to health, but with a long and convincing explanation about the way in which, from the moment we became addicted to nicotine, we use cigarettes to deal with all kinds of needs and complexes and rationalizations that help us justify our continued addiction. These include the fear that if we quit smoking we will gain weight and the fear that some of us share with Sigmund Freud, who claimed that if he quit smoking he would be unable to continue writing.

What really made me happy when I decided on a date for the reinforcement workshop were the instructions that I should by no means stop smoking before coming; that's why I chose the latest date that would seem reasonable to the directors of the institute. For two months I continued smoking, at an average rate of a little over a pack a day, in the knowledge that every cigarette now was contributing to my health, because it was serving the goals of the workshop that in the end would cure me of smoking and make me healthy.

I really liked this principle of quitting smoking by smoking, and strangely it also turned out to be effective, because the moment someone removes the fear that envelopes every serious smoker - of being stuck suddenly without cigarettes - you can calm down enough to contemplate the wisdom of wasting money for the purpose of life-shortening self-poisoning, which we mustn't forget is also very harmful to your complexion.

With me in the reinforcement workshop were people who had come for the fourth time (the institute lets you participate in the program for five years ), or the third or second. Nothing that was said this time was essentially different from what had been said the first time. Once again we heard about the nicotine-devouring animals inside us, whose appetite increases the more we feed it, as in the case of another small organ that people have. We were told that the only way to defeat the animal is by starving it, after which, after only three weeks our physical need for nicotine will disappear. And also that addiction causes us to inhale suffocating and stinking smoke with its wealth of carcinogens.

Of course, in that institute they don't talk about psychological addiction, maybe because in any case they have no way of treating it. Once again I realized that that form of addiction, like any other, involves imposing psychological issues on an entirely chemical addiction - and thus also helps distract the addict from more painful issues that require his attention. Because from the moment you're addicted, all your problems are dwarfed in light of your main, new problem: the fact that you're addicted - in other words, that you must, at this very moment, light up in order to calm down.

And there are also all the habits that accompany smoking and are hard to abandon. To this day, a month and a week after I've stopped smoking again, I find myself putting my hand into my bag in search of a cigarette, albeit less frequently. And still, the workshop's main and most convincing message is that if you don't treat the cigarette as something wonderful, which means that giving it up is supposed to be difficult or to create a sense of deprivation; and if we understand that a cigarette is a cigarette is a cigarette, a sophisticated product that was created to enrich the tobacco companies and the governments that benefit by encouraging addiction among consumers, who pay high taxes - we also avoid the sense of misery we are convinced we will feel if we only try to quit.

So I stopped smoking over a month ago and I didn't feel any particular misery, as opposed to all the previous times when I quit. I don't feel that I've denied myself something and that therefore I deserve immediate compensation in the guise of a cigarette, or at least a Krembo treat. But have I changed from being a person who has quit smoking to being a non-smoker? Don't make me laugh.

Livneh - Ofer - 2.2012