By Laura Marland
It was the early spring of my fifteenth year that I started to smoke.
I was aware that it was pretty stupid, that it was dangerous, that it would quickly make my life much worse.
What I did not know—because it is impossible for a teenager to imagine death and disaster—is that cigarettes would take hold of my brain, altering its chemistry, that they would not let go until they had laid waste to broad expanses of my life, and carried me straight to what could have been the beginning of the end.
I started with my whole life ahead of me. Within weeks, cigarettes became my main comfort, shielding me in the face of loneliness and fear, of which I had a surplus. Suffice it to say, things were bad then.
I started because it was still cool to smoke, despite the fact that most Americans, by that time, were well aware of the Surgeon General’s first mid-1960s report on the link between smoking and cancer. I started because I had had to lose a great deal of weight the year before and I’d heard that cigarettes would make it easier to control my weight. I started to smoke because I thought all I had to offer were my good looks.
I started because some other kids smoked, the cool kids, the ones who did not take school too seriously. When I started to smoke, cigarettes imbued me with coolness in their eyes, and they sidled up to me and started to treat me like I was worth talking to.
Actually, that’s what I thought. Actually, all cigarettes really did was give me an excuse to walk up to my crush, toss my hair back, give him a quick look in the eyes and ask for a light.
I was tall and was frequently told I looked older than I was. It was easy to walk into any convenience store, back then, give them about 35 cents, and get my day’s supply.
Cigarettes, for a young teenage girl, are now and were then a far more effective gateway drug than pot, because they throw the door open to every form of degradation that there is. Pardon me for sounding a bit Victorian, but a young girl who smokes obviously does not respect herself. That is dangerous. Is now and was then.
I went to work. I smoked through the 1970s. I smoked through the 1980s. I would walk into a new office and look around for an ashtray. If there was none, I would ask for one.
I went to college, too. I was a great student because cigarettes provided a built-in gratification system. The nicotine helped me concentrate. I could do very detailed, scholarly work without getting bored. I could study like no one else, sitting next to an aluminum ashtray, in the basement of a college library, drinking vending-machine coffee and reading until security came by to say they were going to lock up. Often, even back then, I wondered whether I would have made it through school without cigarettes.
In the 1990s it started to become a real pain. That was then they started to force us into unpleasant little corners, to threaten to ban smoking altogether on private property. We laughed and we puffed and increasingly people turned away.
I spent the opening years of the new century hanging out with smokers. As smokers became scarcer, I hung out alone.
I held on, with the sick loyalty of an abused spouse.
I loved cigarettes through all those years. Never felt like quitting. Never felt any effects, I told myself. Of course, I ignored the fact that I could no longer run. Eventually, walking wasn’t that much fun, either. But I told myself, I did not have The Cough.
Then, in 2014, I got The Cough.
It would keep me awake at night. I would lie down and the mucus would gather in my throat. Just as I was falling asleep, The Cough would wake me up. Sometimes The Cough was dry and sometimes wet. I woke up coughing. I kept the neighbors awake. I could not get through more than a few sentences without a paroxysm.
I continued, so lonely and isolated that I thought it didn’t matter anymore what I did.
But there is another part of me. It’s something that has kept me alive. A sense that I am somehow worth the oxygen I consume—because if I am not, then no one else is either. It boils down to that.
At the beginning of 2015, I started to meditate, perform Yoga. I started reading about the notion that reality may be a product of the way we think. I started the day with recorded affirmations. I had kind of a revelation—changing one’s reality doesn’t require positive thinking; it requires positive feeling. You have to replace the misery in your chest with the feeling you had on the best day of your life.
If you keep that happy feeling inside you, things get better.
I started to think that if our reality is shaped by our thoughts, then it might also be shaped by the toxic cloud that swirled around me. That cloud could attract nothing good. The toxic cloud, I thought, might be a reflection of what was inside me.
At the same time I began to ponder this power, I learned to give it up, to turn it over. I am not religious in any conventional sense, but I learned to say to the powers of the Universe, to the aspects of the Divine that some call saints, that I have done everything I can and I surrender to you any illusion that I am the one in ultimate control. I asked for help with my tobacco addiction.
The help was granted, I believe. The doors opened.
In March, I was given the opportunity to spend a lot of time researching the benefits and risks of e-smoking. I read or scanned hundreds of studies, written in English and published worldwide in medical journals.
I learned that many European doctors strongly approve of e-cigarettes as a way out for long-term addicts like me. I learned that many American doctors do not approve of e-smoking and that many sit on the boards of the companies that make other nicotine replacement therapies—which don’t, by and large, work.
I did this reading while sucking on cigarettes, by the way.
In April, I was granted the opportunity to move to a new place, to start over in an outdoorsy environment among people who would not consider smoking. I decided that tobacco, which had followed me everywhere for decades, would not be following me to my new home.
I know that many would say that this is weakness, that I need to quit nicotine, too. Sure I do. But I have reduced the toxins—the chemical soup known as tar–to negligible levels and my e-smoking poses no significant threat to the indoor or outdoor environment.
On May 2, 2015, I got up, had coffee, smoked, took a shower, and left the rest of my tobacco on the kitchen counter of my empty apartment. I closed the door, walked to the car I’d carefully cleaned, fumigated and packed, and drove away.
I still e-smoke. I do it less and less. I will probably keep an e-cigarette around in case I receive a sudden emotional shock, which may make me want to smoke. The e-cigarette will prevent a relapse.
But I have also learned that if I get tense, what I need to do is breathe. Just breathe. I have become a fan of oxygen. I do daily cardio work and strength training. I don’t smell and, in my opinion, I look a lot better.
As I write this, I am listening to a young man coughing. He lives next door. He stands outside to smoke. His cough is wet and loud. Soon, he will be standing outside with his morning coffee and a cigarette.
He is a valuable and important member of the human race. So am I. So are you, whether or not you smoke. If you are a long-term smoker who has tried and failed with other quitting methods, you have every right to try this. You have every right to use everything and anything at your disposal to do it.
L Marland Facebook
Jonny: After speaking with Laura and working with her to put together the e cig research resource on this very site. I had no idea that she had been through the above.
I know how difficult this was to put down ‘on paper’ her journey with tobacco and would just like to say thanks so much for sharing, it’s very much appreciated and I’m sure it will resonate with many smokers/ex smokers out there that are looking for a way out.