Accent on Living

I HAD hoped to be a member of that extremely small, select group of journalists who stopped smoking and who did not, in consequence, write an article about their feat, Fifty cigarettes a day for forty years, the measure of my addiction, tots up to 580,000 cigarettes, and stop smoking them I did. But the reasons for saying something about it seem to me stronger than the case for reticence.

I am uncomfortably aware, as I make this admission, of the disdainful little piece which f wrote for these pages about “the swear-off article” and how one man’s swear-off was after all too much like another’s. But the propaganda for smoking and the myth of failure and misery for those who would try to stop are sufficiently preposterous to claim space here for comment.

In my own case the rewards of shifting from fifty cigarettes a day to none at all so far outweighed the difficulties and came so promptly that the great issue of “ will power” never arose at all: the choice was a slate of comfort and well-being or a state of near-invalidism and acute discomfort. That choice is not nearly so hard to make as the mythology of the subject might lead one to believe. An asthmatic, who has been breathing noisily for a score of years, finds suddenly that he can lie down and sleep the night through, breathing deeply and quietly. “Suddenly” in my case means by the end of the first week of nonsmoking, and if I did a certain amount of fumbling during that week for cigarettes that I was no longer carrying and the lighter that I used no more, I am more than willing to trade a week of fumbling and fidgeting for the genuine luxury of more normal breathing. The fumbling faded rapidly, for every time I realized what I was fumbling for, the massive awareness of my state of physical comfort put me at ease, and by the end of a week I fumbled no more. Any habit or mannerism of long standing calls for some effort if it is to be broken, and I doubt that tobacco is any harder to terminate than any other habit.

The test is not how hard it is, but whether or not the results warrant the doing.

There are, of course, many other consequences when anyone with respiratory trouble stops, after smoking excessively. Tobacco and asthma combined in my case to make me hypersensitive to all sorts of other substances such as ragweed pollen and a variety of commonplace foodstuffs— sea food of any sort , chocolate, pineapple, peas, spices, nuts, melons —and an encounter with any of these set me to wheezing and sputtering within the hour. But without the irritation caused by tobacco, I can take any and all of these in stride with considerable enjoyment and no perceptible ill effects.

Even more enjoyable than sleeping so comfortably was the sudden access of energy for the working day, the disappearance of afternoon fatigue, the resumption of a far more active way of life than I would have believed possible for myself even ten years ago, let alone today. (These findings are not intended, and I should have said so at the beginning, for those who are not troubled by the use of tobacco, but I feel obliged to add that although not all smokers are asthmatics, most of the asthmatics I have known were heavy smokers.)

I have indeed been worried by the tendency to take on weight, of which the anti-stopping mythology makes so much. For a couple of weeks I munched butterscotch wafers or tried chewing gum to dull the edge of mounting appetite, but these substitutes were so unsatisfying that I dropped them altogether. Overeating does call for protective strategy. So does oversmoking, and a ten-pound gain in weight seems to me a good deal less formidable problem than the progressive consequences of anoxemia. The propaganda for cigarettes on the airwaves is transcribed ecstasy on a 24-hour basis, with its hymn of jubilation over the latest; filter, the new cigarette, or the old cigarette with its newly discovered riehermilder-smoother-finer — where have we heard those words before? — qualities. The hymn fades suddenly into the voice of the high priest, who repeats in the voice of hysteria the inanities of the ritual: Don’t miss the fun of smoking. Smoke real. Smoke modern. Smoking is a pleasure, togetherness. Be a real American. Come along with the rest of us. Don’t be an outsider. Smoke, smoke any old thing just so long as you smoke something and don’t, try to be so different from other folks.

As if the cigarette advertisers were needing outside help, the New York Times editorial page gave them a lift by devoting its Topics of the Times column, a few weeks ago, to a despondent account of what befalls anyone trying to give up smoking.

The gist of the case, developed in a vein of wistful facetiousness, was that the agonies aren’t worth the effort, and it can t be done anyhow.

I am perfectly willing to take the role of bigot, reformed sinner, and bore for the purpose of arguing the contrary.