the last cigarette

I still recall the last cigarette I ever smoked, in early August of 2000, sitting on a bench outside the U of R library and rolling up the dried crumbs at the bottom of a pouch of Drum. I ended up rolling four lumpy smokes out of what was left, figuring that the tobacco could get no staler and drier than it already was. As I selected the most promising one and dropped three back in the pouch I tried to push away the anxiety that comes over smokers when they calculate the difference between the number of cigarettes left and the number of days until their next paycheque. In my case, I had nearly a week to go before I saw any more cash. Given my habit, this was an untenable situation.

Despite occasional breaks, I had over the preceding fourteen years come to think of myself primarily as a smoker. I was snobbish about the tobacco I smoked and strangely proud of my facility in rolling cigarettes of such smooth and uniform shape that they looked almost like assembly line products. And I smoked constantly. In 1992 a pouch of Drum lasted me a week, but by 2000 I was able to go through a pouch in about a day and a half. One day I calculated that a pouch would yield seventy of my uniform rollies, which meant that at my peak I was managing to inhale about forty per day, filterless and pitiless.

Whatever anyone may tell you, it is not easy to smoke forty cigarettes in a day. Each cigarette takes approximately five minutes, which means that at least three hours per day is taken up with rolling, inhaling and proper disposal. Consider that I never chain-smoked and you begin to see the awesome commitment that being such a smoker requires. It takes serious discipline and a careful consideration of priorities.

The first thing to go, obviously, is work. Either you pick a job that allows you to smoke constantly or you give it up altogether and seek other means to fuel your habit. I had found what I thought was a good compromise: an office environment made up semi-nomadic herds of smokers, constantly massing at reception and heading to the alleyway behind the building.

Then there’s sleep. I took advantage of a feedback loop. Nicotine helps keep you awake, which frees up more smoking time. True, there’s a point of diminishing returns, followed by a point of diminished capacity and then some drooling, but at 3 AM you feel like going the distance.

Food, as any smoker will tell you, is a scam pushed on people by agribusiness, and completely unnecessary if you smoke. Cigarettes will provide all the nutrition a body needs – you just have to believe (and smoke). The only thing tobacco won’t provide, besides a few trace elements and minerals, is vitamin Coffee. All-night coffee shops are set up all over the city to provide people with this precious resource.

If you’ve been following my inexorable logic, you’ll see where this is leading. Without a need for sleep or food, you don’t really need an apartment, do you? Once you’ve smoked your bed, fridge and stove out of your life, all you require is a backpack with a few possessions, quarters for laundry, and maybe a girlfriend with a place you can crash at every so often. So what if you smell terrible and your teeth and fingers turn the colour of boiled yam? What you’re doing takes self-sacrifice, discipline, and guts. And lungs.

So why did I quit smoking on that August day in 2000? Was it a final recognition of the disgust I felt when dry shreds of tobacco rushed through one end of the cigarette and coated my tongue? Was it the nasty state of my teeth? Was I perhaps tired of measuring out my moments of anticipation and pleasure to fit around an income that didn’t quite support my habit? Health issues maybe?

It was none of those. I lacked the discipline and the strength to carry my habit through to the end. I’m so sorry, tobacco: I let you down. But I’ve promised crystal meth that I’ll do better.