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Coffee Break

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by Clarissa French

If you're a smoker who works in a nonsmoking environment, don't gripe be grateful. Your workplace policy is probably adding years to your life.

I consider myself very fortunate to have worked in a nonsmoking office for the last five years. If I could have lit up at my workstation anytime I wanted to, I'd probably be dead by now.

Having said that, I also think giving up smoking is like what old folks say about marriage the first 50 years are the hardest. That is, if the first two weeks are any indication.

After being a smoker for about 12 years, I finally realized it was time to quit.

Oh sure, I've enjoyed the chronic bronchitis; that special feeling I got standing outside in the dead of winter, smoking a butt while my nose hair froze; the wheezing; the gasping; the joy of having an inhaler all mine own.

Believe me, it isn't easy to give it all up.

But I can't say I don't have anything to show for my smoking after all, I do own the Marlboro lighter, key chain, weekend bag, Swiss army knife, four-man tent (Marlboro men not included), stainless steel thermos, red bandanna and soft-side, 12-pack beer cooler.

I also ordered and gave away two Marlboro gym bags, a calfskin wallet, a calfskin shaving bag, two pairs of river shorts and a second stainless steel thermos.

But that was a whole brand ago. I switched to Camel Lights from Marlboro Lights a couple of years back. I have yet to see what I can buy with my accrued Camel Cash. (Do they make a Joe Camel oxygen tent?)

Many of us who smoke do so as a response to stress. However, I am learning that my methods for dealing with stress (coffee and cigarettes), my methods for relaxing (cigarettes and coffee) and my spare time pursuits (reading while chain smoking and slurping down you-know-what) not only do not relieve my emotional stress, they create physical stress.

When I was a young, dewy-eyed college student first weighing the, uh, benefits of smoking, all my smoker friends told me, in a wheezy, congested litany: "Don't-take-up-smoking-it's-a-filthy-disgusting-habit-and-you-won't-be-able-to-quit."

Well, after a decade of smoking, I can testify that it's a filthy, disgusting habit and I haven't been able to quit.

Until now.

Because I'm finished. I'm done. I've quit smoking. Or at least I'm in there trying.

Because finally I see the handwriting on the wall. It's my handwriting. It says, "Stop smoking, or you will die."

As I was at the doctor's office, getting my second lung X-ray in three weeks, I took a good hard look at ... me.

I am not 21 anymore. I am 32 years old.

I have had pneumonia in my left lung two times in four years.

I cannot push all the air out of my lungs. My doctor says this is an early sign of emphysema.

My father, a cigarette smoker, dropped dead at the age of 39 from a possible heart attack.

The effects of smoking on my health are becoming more frequent and more severe.

In other words, it's quittin' time.

My first "nonsmoking" week no cigarettes on the premises I went through every ashtray I owned, straightened out the crushed butts and smoked them. I smoked dogends I found under the couch. If I'd seen a cigarette in the gutter, I would have smoked it. This in spite of the fact that I had pneumonia.

I was what we professional journalists call "really pathetic."

By the second week, I was no longer checking my pocket lint for loose tobacco, but I still did not trust myself to be alone with an open pack of cigarettes.

All the movies I watched on television at this point seemed to feature smokers. I completely lost track of the dialogue and the storyline as I watched the cigarette travel from the actor's lips to the ashtray.

When the camera moved away from the smoker, I found myself looking for wisps of smoke from offscreen. Where was the cigarette now? Was it still lit? Was it my brand?

Now, at the beginning of the third week, if you dropped a cigarette into my hands ... I'd smoke it!

But is it easier to resist? Yes. A little easier every day.

The first 50 years are the hardest.

INSET CAPTION:

I see the handwriting on the wall. It's my handwriting. It says, 'Stop smoking, or you will die.'[[In-content Ad]]

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