Smoking Hot

A decision to reduce the number of cigarettes puts smokers under a lot of pressure, to the point where only lighting a cigarette, followed by another and another, can offer relief.

We'll begin with a summary of the previous chapters: I stopped smoking seven and a half years ago; I resumed smoking four months and one week ago; I stopped smoking eight days ago, with the help of a six-hour workshop.

At first it seemed very simple, and I had already begun to be convinced that - as they told us in the workshop - the reason it's so hard for people to stop smoking is that we all expect it to be hard for us to stop smoking. In other words, there's a principle of autosuggestion at work here, or of fulfilling our fears. They've already told me more than enough times - mainly types who tend to tell series of stupid jokes - that it is very easy to stop smoking: "After all, I've already stopped loads of times." The dummies who say that (excuse me for the aggressiveness; I've stopped smoking, as you know ) are quoting a wise man, and it is in fact very easy to stop smoking.

sketch smoking girl
Avi Ofer

Even a heavy smoker stops smoking without any problem at least once a week. The heaviest smokers don't dream of smoking during a trans-Atlantic flight that lasts for hours. And every smoker stops smoking between cigarettes. It's as easy to stop smoking as it is to begin a diet; the only real problem is to stick to it. Although I know a wonderful guy who hasn't tasted carbohydrates since 1993, most people can't keep up such abstention throughout their lives.

I recently had the opportunity to interview a famous diet priestess on television. For years she has been running very popular diet groups because she has an excellent sense of humor, and she also looks as though she shares the problems of all the participants in her groups. She arrived at the TV studio slim and svelte.

"What happened?" I asked her, "did you finally go to a real dietician? Because it looks as though you've lost something like 10-12 kilos." Eleven kilos, admitted the dietician, telling me that recently she has been avoiding carbohydrates as much as possible, stops eating toward evening, goes on fast walks, avoids all fruits but apples and pears, and similar tips known to every dietician.

What's the connection with smoking? The connection is actually a reverse one. You can fast between meals, but you can't stop smoking between cigarettes. Unless you're someone really special, you definitely can't decide to avoid even a single square of chocolate and stick to the decision all your life. What keeps people on a diet is the fact that they hope for better days - those that come after the diet. Then we'll eat all the things from which we abstained during the period of the diet, before embarking on our next diet, and so on.

But it's impossible to decide to stop smoking for a limited period or to decide for a while to cut down significantly on the number of cigarettes. In effect, a decision to reduce the number of cigarettes puts smokers under a lot of pressure, to the point where only lighting a cigarette, followed by another and another, can offer relief. In other words, the mere decision to cut down will immediately cause a serious smoker to increase the number of cigarettes he smokes.

I discovered that it's also impossible, as I decided seven and a half years ago, to stop smoking for 25 years. Because this decision itself is based on the assumption that smoking is great fun - "the mother of natural Prozac," as the late, great psychologist Yoram Hazan claimed. And therefore you can expect to miss smoking for 25 years, and naturally this longing turns smoking a cigarette into something far more exalted and significant than the smoking itself, which involves a bad smell, irritability and a risk to life.

It's true that the longing to smoke does not cause cancer, and I have yet to hear of anyone who fell ill with emphysema as a result of thinking about smoking cigarettes, but those longings cause one to return to smoking. That's a fact.

I myself stopped smoking out of consideration for my then-partner, who had undergone open heart surgery. To me it didn't seem polite to smoke when he returned from the hospital. Of course, from the moment I decided to stop smoking for a reason unrelated to me, I found many explanations for not smoking, in order to turn the decision to stop into something that I was doing "for myself."

That same heart-surgery patient, who had himself stopped smoking a year earlier, never went back to missing cigarettes. That's exactly how some of my girlfriends who stopped smoking after I did feel (although one of them has been addicted for six years to nicotine chewing gum that smells like an ashtray ). But I, although I amazed all my friends when I stopped smoking, never stopped missing it. "You used to talk all the time about how you felt like smoking, every time someone lit up near you," said one. The second reminded me that I had simply advised her not to stop smoking because according to me (and I swear I don't remember saying such things ), I had not had a moment of pleasure since I stopped lighting a cigarette with another cigarette.

"The aim of our workshop is to turn you from smokers into nonsmokers, not into former smokers," explained Shahaf, who led the group in which I participated. Here, in effect, lies the entire difference. For seven years, two months and two days I was a former smoker, one who missed smoking at any given moment, and from now on I'm supposed to become a "nonsmoker," like all those millions of smart people who simply didn't make the mistake I made when I first picked up a Dunhill cigarette (I loved the design of the red and gold pack ). I was 16-years-old at the time, and I never imagined that that first cigarette meant all the hundreds of thousands that were to follow.