Nicotine’s devilish, yet cool, ways |

Nicotine’s devilish, yet cool, ways

Tony Vagneur

It started out innocuously enough, surreptitiously stealing drags off my granddad’s cigar, which he’d leave in the ashtray of his green and white 1948 Oldsmobile while visiting my parents on hung-over Sunday mornings.By eight or nine I was thieving packs of filterless Lucky Strikes (L.S.M.F.T. – “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco”, or “Loose Straps, My Floppy -” well, you get the idea) out of the kitchen cabinet where my parents hid them, or so they thought.At age twelve, and as clearly as if it was yesterday, I remember my friend Jimmy chiding me that, “You’re not smoking unless you inhale.” That was in front of the Sundeck on a sunny, summer day and I thought I might be having a heart attack at first, but before the day was out, was almost a practiced smoker. And I was hooked.At 15, a friend of my parents and the basketball coach, Tom Whipple, cornered me after a game and informed me that either I quit smoking or my athletic career was over. It worked and I didn’t smoke for a very long time, except for the occasional collegiate cigar with a bottle of wine.San Francisco, stealer of hearts, snuck up on mine in a different way. She was a married woman, a few years older than I, and could do some of the most sensual, alluring, sexy and downright nasty things with her mouth and tongue, rolling the smoke from a cigarette around and over them and up into the air. It was a week-long business seminar and the last night, I ducked around the corner, as fast as I could, to a lonely bar where, along with a double scotch on the rocks, I ordered a pack of cigarettes and had sucked up a couple before I truly began to feel relief from the almost insatiable desire that had built up over the course of the previous few days.From then on, nicotine ruled my life. If I went into the mountains, I had to make sure I had enough cigarettes. Lake Powell somehow snatched my supply away on my first visit, and after three days without a fix, I thought insanity might come at any time. Trying to puff one up in a hurry on Lift No. 6 with wet gloves, cold fingers and a wind blowing the matches out, is a challenging experience.If you’re a smoker, you’ll have no idea how disgusting the habit really is until you actually quit for a long time. If you haven’t smoked, you’ll never be able to understand how psychologically debilitating such an addiction can be, unless maybe you get into heroin, instead. I used to sneak outside at “no smoking” events for a hurried butt without ever realizing that the horrendous smell followed me right back inside, as if I had a dead mouse in my pocket. Broadway playhouses used to provide smoking vestibules for nicotine freaks at intermission – a room of horrors would be a kindly description.One day, I got a greater urge to quit than ever before, and finally accomplished the task four years later (at 50 or so). I couldn’t have done it alone – I had a couple of good doctors involved – who prescribed the correct amount of patches, tranquilizers and good advice, all in futile attempts to get me off the damned nicotine. I’d go for three or four months without a smoke and then relapse, joyfully inhaling self-destruction as though it was the manna of everlasting life. My devilish brain would subvert me with all kinds of rationalizations as to why just one more cigarette couldn’t hurt; in fact might help. I haven’t had a smoke for five or six years now and feel exceedingly good, but never say I’ve quit. I promised myself I might have one when I turn 80, and that’s what’s keeping me going.If you want to be cool, have a cigarette. Trust me.Tony Vagneur knows more about nicotine than he should. Read him here every Saturday and send comments to

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