It wasn’t long after I walked through the door and approached the hotel’s front desk, that the scent of cigarette smoke soon filled my sinuses.
That’s right, I was in Nevada.
Although the state largely became smoke free in public places back in 2006, those public places do not include casinos or gaming areas. And as anyone who has stayed over in Reno knows, that pretty much means every hotel in town.
Perhaps more surprising than the strong smell of cigarettes permeating the building was my own apparent sensitivity to it. Nearly a week later, I’m fairly certain this “cold” I’ve contracted has something to do with the cleansing of cigarette smoke from my system.
Who would have thought it possible?
I mean, for a 15-year period I was at least a pack-a-day smoker. Not only was I not irritated by the smell of cigarettes back then, but I pretty much relished the aroma. To smell cigarette smoke was to realize I was in an appropriate place to light one up — which I no doubt certainly did. Smoking had become such a staple in my daily routine that long after it had been banned inside buildings, and even in some outdoor settings, my smoking was mostly confined to my car or in the comfort of my assorted hazy studio apartments. Admittedly, though, my self-induced solitary confinement — just to have a smoke — was perfectly suitable to me.
But then came my wife, along with children, and, yes, that realization of “responsibility.”
Soon I was isolating myself even more, sneaking off after dinner — safely away from the eyes of our curious darling daughter always wondering “Where’d Daddy go?” — to steal a smoke. Or I’d go for a “walk” outside, as my wife, understandably, had extended California’s ban on smoking to include within the walls of our own home. I suppose I’d been successful at such sneaking around all the way up until the birth of our second daughter. And, who knows, I might likely still be smoking to this very day if not for a not-so subtle “sign” sent my way on the morning after her actual birthday.
She was born at 9 p.m., but just after 9 a.m. the next morning I was on the phone with my brother, wondering if my own father would even get the chance to meet her. His heart attack had him being flown to the hospital; it was not clear that he’d make it.
As tears rolled down my cheeks and I dragged deeply on the cigarette in hand, it suddenly — with such clarity — hit me that I did not want to be in Dad’s shoes sometime down the road, wondering whether I might live long enough to meet my own granddaughter.
I wish I could say I was done with cigarettes when I stomped out that butt outside the hospital.
But it wasn’t going to be that easy. After all, I was an addict.
I have no hesitation in saying that, because it quickly became absolutely apparent in the chemical and emotional dependency I’d developed with nicotine and the satisfaction it provided when I lit up my “fix.” In addition to discussing “the patch,” “the gum” and other nicotine replacement options, my doctor also prescribed an antidepressant as he noted that I was, essentially, going through “a divorce.”
“You’re saying goodbye to your best friend,” he told me.
There’s no doubt it had grown into much more than a “habit.” When I awoke, I had a smoke — pairing so perfectly with a cup of coffee. When I left home, I checked to make sure I had my keys, my wallet, my phone and my smokes — as well as a lighter. On the way to work, ashing out the cracked driver’s side window, I smoked. After grabbing a bite to eat, I smoked. Having a beer with a buddy, I smoked. Before I laid my head to rest each night, I smoked.
Eventually, it seemed anytime I took a deep breath without a drag on a smoke, I couldn’t help but cough up a lung.
But I was determined to not find myself facing my Dad’s dilemma one day.
Therefore, I used the patch and chewed the gum — not an advised practice by my doctor or any other physician, as far as I know. I took the antidepressant and shoved Tootsie Pops into my mouth any moment I was not champing at the bit for some nicotine.
I simply was not going to smoke.
And I didn’t. And I haven’t. And here we are, one week away from our daughter’s 10th birthday and the 10-year anniversary of my independence day from my nicotine addiction. Last spring, I actually bummed a smoke — please don’t tell my wife — from a buddy following a softball game and took a couple of drags.
Nothing. It wasn’t the same. The “fix” was no longer necessary. The sense of satisfaction was no longer drawn from the butt of a cigarette, but through a deep breath and the realization that it had been nearly a decade since I’d kicked the habit.
According to the American Cancer Society, tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. But about 43.8 million Americans still smoke cigarettes — nearly one in every five adults.
And while I’m certainly pleased to be celebrating 10 years of smoke-free living, the reason I’m writing this column is to let others know that they, too, can set aside the smokes.
Even for those who have smoked for several decades, it can be done.
I’m looking at you, Dad.
After all, wouldn’t it be something to one day meet your great-grandkids?
Brian Hamilton is editor at The Union. His column is published Wednesdays. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 530-477-4249.