Illustration by Joel Vaughn/22 West

Pacts of Cigarettes

Tastes like flavor country and disappointment

Story and Illustration by Joel Vaughn, Staff Writer

I’m a millennial cigarette smoker. A literally dying novelty considering that the CDC reports that only 1 in 10 18-to-24-year-olds light up, and that 1 in 5 deaths are smoking related.

I feel that it’s time to navel-gaze for a moment and see if I can figure out why I’ll never be able to give up the tobaccy coffin nail.

This semester marks my fifth year of smoking, after deciding that choking down dirty tobacco smoke with a cabal of student editors was a good way to stay in the loop of community college newsroom politics. I’m probably stuck in smokerdom till the FDA dissolves both Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds or hypnotherapy is proven as an effective means of smoking cessation. With that acceptance, I feel that it’s time to navel-gaze for a moment and see if I can figure out why I’ll never be able to give up the tobaccy coffin nail.

What damned me to this seemingly never-ending love affair with $10 packs of American Spirits was firstly the stress of college, and secondly the alluring stereotype of the chain-smoking writer. I wanted to be Hemingway clicking away at a typewriter altar, lighting my next stogg off the stubby end of the one I just finished, but instead I’m just winded after walking up two flights of stairs. The only thing that relieves my collegiate woes are the 15 minute walks to either Seventh or Atherton Street to enjoy huffing nicotined laced carbon monoxide for 5 minutes. Then I instantly regret it as I croak up dark phlegm on the same walk back.

Before going any further, I should probably take part in due-diligence and urge you, the reader, not to smoke anything that isn’t gouda or salmon, and suggest consulting the health center for resources to quit if ciggies are your vice.  

I would’ve quit by now if not for — as I alluded four sentences ago — absolutely loving the feeling of burning something into my crude-oil-black lungs. It’s relief, contemplation, serenity and sheet tobacco tar wrapped in bleached and chemically lined papers.

The motivation to give up on cigs just never took. I keep buying packs, and every one is a pact with myself that I won’t buy another. I will always fall through on this.

It’s the same failure of accountability that will probably keep me from writing a novel, maintaining a positive outlook or making more than one appearance at the gym per year. All these pacts require me to not self-destruct, and my tendency towards annihilation is most exemplified by my continuing returns to the Camel Crush crutch.

I suppose this is to say that I’ve become both the disapproving father and the petulantly-stuck-in-his-way son. It’s a circular conversation, scolding myself for setting fire to my lungs and then indignantly reaching for the pack.

I’m trapped in the cycle of deciding to quit, spending a couple days soaking in the smug satisfaction of being an ex-smoker, questioning that satisfaction after catching the smell of nasty sweet burning dirt wafting from behind the library. Then I’m called to make the shameful pilgrimage to the temple of all things harmful to the body known as the 7-Eleven on East Atherton Street. After cash changes hands, I partake in that smoky sacrament and swear that it’ll be my last.

Maybe it’s time to make that hypnotherapy appointment, or become one of those people who anxiously gnaws on gum all day. But I will always be with myself and my moral compass is guided by cigarette karma.