Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Bad Habits - Smoking

I imagine that most of us have one or more bad habits. While there is something about the habit that is rewarding - and which either delays or prevents us from correcting it - it is still a bad habit. One of my bad habits was smoking and that habit remained with me for 38 years.

As I entered my teen years I was struggling with who I was. Because of the illness I suffered while still a baby my true identity was very confusing. Where we lived was a 'blue collar' neighbourhood where most of the men worked in the nearby lumber mills and practically all of them smoked. My Dad smoked cigarettes and my maternal granddad a pipe. To me - trying to overcome the trauma of stays in hospitals and striving to be the 'Young Man' that I thought that Dad wanted me to be - what was 'masculine' was not clear. For three years we lived on the brow of Dawes Hill but, when that rental deal became untenable, we moved to another neighbourhood. While we were still within  walking distance of the former, our new 'hood was quite different. Up on the Hill there lived many boys who were around my age but - down beside the highway - there were a number of girls and very few boys.

One spring a crisis arose in the public school system and we students were put on a 'swing shift' which meant that I was home in the afternoons but there were no other boys in my age grouping nearby. Above the house was the forested ridge and - along it - ravines where creeks tumbled down the slope. When I had no chores to attend to, I spent every afternoon up in those woods.

Mom and Dad accepted a distant relative through marriage as a boarder and he worked at Capilano Timber as Dad did. This was Hubert Brown Gibson who eventually became one of my brothers-in-law. Hubert smoked so I would steal cigarettes (or rolling tobacco and paper) from him. I took these items with me up into the woods and 'learned' to smoke.

By this time Alda was dating 'Happy' Crandell of the family where we had purchased our milk while we still lived up on the Hill. Happy was a rebellious sort of kid and - while younger than I - he was already smoking. One Sunday afternoon he had been down at the house visiting Alda and - when he left to walk home - I tagged along. Once out of sight of the house he took out his package of cigarettes and lit one. I steeled myself and nervously asked if I could have one as well? He was surprised but quickly got over his shock and gave me one.

We rode on the same bus to school each morning. Before arriving at the high school the bus always stopped at a nearby elementary where some of the older high school kids got off in order to walk the last few blocks. As I alighted there with my buddy there was a yell from some of the other boys on the bus, "Hey!!! Ernie is smoking!" (They all knew that Happy did so they put two and two together).

It was not long after that that Mom found something in one of the pockets of my pants which clued her in so she told Dad. He confronted me about what had been found and expressed disappointment that I had not come right out and asked that I be allowed to smoke. I guess that some kids would be bold enough to do that - but not me!

At the same time Alda and I would catch the country bus into New Westminster on Saturday morning in order to attend our music lessons. I don't remember if  it was on the following Saturday or not but the bus was full except for the rear seat. I walked back there and found $.75 in change lying on the seat. There was enough change there to cover the cost of a package of cigarettes so I went to the newsstand in the tram/bus depot and bought a packet.

Back home again Dad was working under the house digging out what was supposed to be the basement. I went down there and offered Dad a cigarette from my package feeling that I was - at last - one step closer to being an adult.

I smoked fairly steadily from there until the autumn of 1989. A health issue was being broached already but it was still years away before it became a universally accepted principle. All the offices in which I worked - including church offices - had ashtrays on the desks and I imagine that the air often was blue from the smoke!

As an active churchman - and especially from those who held more fundamentalist beliefs - I did receive 'digs' about my habit.

In 1989 I moved to Toronto where I found employment in the office of Stamm Economic Research. The Office Manager was Judy Stamm - the wife of the principal - and she was allergic to tobacco smoke so no smoking was allowed in the office. At that time I walked to and from work each day - about 3/4 of a mile each way - and smoked as I trudged along. I began noticing that I was  wheezing and coughing a lot. It was time for me to quit - but how would that be accomplished?

On one Saturday morning I walked down to my favorite coffee shop at the corner of Church and Wellesley. Out front was a young man who was handing out brochures and I took one.

The brochures were for the services of a company called 'Smokenders' which would be holding a clinic in a room at one of the downtown hotels. I signed up and payed $365.00 for the six week course. That was a lot of money! Therefore - and at that price - the program had better work!

At each session we were told to register the brand of cigarettes which we were smoking, look at the small print on the end of the packet and note the tar content (a percentage figure). When we needed another packet of cigarettes we were to purchase a packet with no more than half the tar content than what we had been smoking. This went on for six weeks and I began to think that I was drawing on air and that I would never succeed.

When 'quitting day' arrived - would I be able to stay off of nicotine?

That was 24 years ago and I have not smoked since!

Ric loves cigars and I thought that I would join him in that indulgence but he flatly forbade me from doing so. Cigarette smokers inhale while - for the most part - cigar smokers do not. Ric is worried that - as it was my habit to inhale - I would fall right back into that habit and become addicted again.

I am happily giving that advice the benefit of a doubt!

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