I have tried and failed to get addicted to nicotine.
Despite the attempts of the American public education in my youth to persuade me otherwise, I made a conscious decision in college to start smoking. It wasn’t necessarily because I wanted to make a statement about the personal decision to shit on my lungs or look like a rebel against the pious non-smoking decree on campus. Nor was it because of the media-frenzied peer pressure effect; I can’t even recall a time in my pre-smoker days when one of my smoker friends offered me a cigarette. I went to a small liberal arts school where anyone who was anybody knew everybody and I simply found that the people at the smoking table had more interesting conversations.
The first pack I ever bought was of Pall Mall menthols. Pall Mall because that’s what Vonnegut smoked. (“A classy way to commit suicide.”) And menthol because I wanted to be black. Kidding–menthol because I had the impression that’s what new smokers did. It was a terrible decision and I owe the conventional wisdom of Philip Morris an apology.
I smoked everyday consistently for my entire first semester. We had a Native American reservation,“The Rez,” nearby with reduced taxes where cigs were notoriously cheap and buying in bulk was encouraged. My go-to brand, Marlboro No. 27, was literally half the price from NYC, $5.50 as opposed to $11, and I was never short enough to bum and always generous.
Aside from being a social lubricant, I found cigarettes an effective study aid alternative to energy drinks. Improving concentration, they allowed my sleep-deprived brain to burn late on research papers without feeling high-strung and jittery. The half-life of nicotine in the body is about 2 hours compared to caffeine’s 5 hours.
Ah, notorious nicotine. It’s a cool drug, from a biochemical perspective. It has psychoactive properties of both stimulants and depressants. It can create a slew of pleasure-enhancing chemicals in the brain. And it has a lethal median dose (LD50) of about 40 mg in the human body compared to 70 mg for arsenic.
At my smoking career apex during finals, I was smoking about 10 a day or half a pack. Not terrible, but enough to haul my ass across campus several times a day to go to the table. Then exams ended. The school was too small and poor to offer an on-campus option so everyone was kicked out of the dorms for winter interim. The Rez was in the opposite direction of New Jersey, and I was too exhausted to drive there and stock up before heading home.
The first thing my body did upon realizing it was allowed to sleep again was get terribly terribly sick. I had to go to the doctor and get fancy broad-spectrum antibiotics, which, without insurance, cut deeply into my starving student budget. I didn’t smoke the first couple weeks back home and really didn’t want to. A lot of people use this recovery period as an opportunity to make a financially-sound and health-conscious decision to continue their cold turkey discontinuation. But I’m irresponsible. Which means a week after resuming puffing I ran out of cigarettes because I failed to stockpile.
What happened here was not what happens to people who identify as “addicts.” I simply found myself too lazy to buy more nicotine.
Excuses were abundant: I hate driving in snow. It’s cold. It’s windy. I can’t find my lighter. They cost $2 more per pack here. Almost none of my friends at home smoke, and I don’t want to interrupt the social flow by going outside for a minute.
I ended up dropping out of the swanky liberal arts school for medical reasons the next semester and never resumed the smoking habit. Smoking paralyzes the cilia in the lungs, and if you stop smoking they will become unparalyzed and start making you cough. So starting and stopping smoking tends to suck. I tried to start a couple times, but my body is pretty good at telling me when I’m being an asshole to it.
Maybe I didn’t give the nicotine long enough to grip me. Maybe I don’t have the “addict gene.” Maybe I really am one of the laziest people in the world.
I’m on a medication called Wellbutrin now, which is a nicotinic agonist, so I physically can’t try smoking without vomiting. So I guess the real point of my post is: Does anyone want to buy my hookah?