Funny how we change

Columns sometimes come easy and sometimes they are a struggle. So I was pleased to be about three quarters into a column on “Spring” that was coming out pretty well a few weeks back.

Then I got totally sidetracked from my train of thought.

The phone rang and, the next thing I know, I am taking a survey about tobacco. It was a federally funded survey for Wyoming health and it seemed like a good thing to take a 15 minute time out to complete the survey. I figured it would be easy enough to jump back into my column on spring.

In the course of 15 minutes, I was blasted back to the past. I had forgotten how strongly cigarettes were a part of my routine at one time.

I never thought cigarettes were good for me since, at age 14, I took my first puff. My mother had survived breast cancer when I was about eight. I grew up informed on the health risk and I can even remember promising my mother I wouldn’t smoke when I was 12. Little did I know in two years that promise would go by the wayside.

Still, being a kid, you do stupid things and it is a part of growing up.

Starting to smoke at such a young age is not anything I am proud of but smoking was a part of my day-to-day life from middle school to college. My high school even had smoking areas and time between classes lasted 10 minutes for smokers to grab a cigarette.

It was a part of my ritual in school.

My father and stepmother were not wild about my habit, but they allowed me to smoke in the house. I admit, I kept my cigarette habit away from my mother until I was out of high school for fear of upsetting her. I wasn’t wrong about her being upset. She hated I smoked and I was never allowed to have a cigarette on her property. I can remember having to go out to my car when visiting her on more than one occasion.

College came and, although I smoked, I was a runner. Not competitive, but I hit the track and certain trails around the university pretty hard. My junior year in college, I decided to quit.

I did.

Cold turkey.

I put a pack of cigarettes on my desk and told myself I could have a cigarette any time I wanted, but I would learn something about myself if I faltered. I am pretty proud to say, I didn’t touch a cigarette until I moved to Taiwan years later.

Everyone around me supported me when I quit because nobody I was close to thought it was a good habit.

After almost 15 years without a cigarette, I found myself in a culture where cigarette smoking gave instant acceptance when first meeting people. I am not overstating when I say instant acceptance.

Men in Asian culture use cigarettes as a way of introducing themselves. Back when I first arrived, there was actually status attached to what sort of cigarettes you smoked. The status came because at least a half pack would go out to friends and business acquaintances. Expensive packs meant you were generous. For about three years I smoked French, Taiwanese, German, Japanese and American brands of cigarettes. I remember really liking Davidoffs, a decent German cigarette.

I was still running a fair amount so I realized it was time to quit after about three years.

Cold turkey, again, but this time over the course of the next seven years, I had a cigarette here and there. Then I opened a restaurant in Taiwan and, only myself to blame, I picked up the habit again. Partly out of doing business—I know, crazy—and because bars and smoking went hand in hand in Taiwan back then.

I think it is a little different now.

I purchased a couple packs a day but, remember, offering a cigarette to someone was a way of showing goodwill. So, I passed out a lot of cigarettes. Plus packs of cigarettes were way cheap. About 85 cents a pack and that was the good brands. There were cheap ones that were under 50 cents.

I can’t really remember when I quit exactly, but by the time I came to live in Wyoming for a couple years, I did not smoke. My years in China I was around smokers, but there was no ritual with cigarettes the way it had been in Taiwan, unless I was around older Chinese men. I might have a cigarette here and there depending on the social situation, but I can say I haven’t even tried a cigarette in over 10 years.

I have not thought about my cigarette smoking days in years, but as I took this survey I was finding myself amazed at how cigarette smoking, cigar smoking and I can even say I went through a phase of snuff when I first lived in Wyoming.

The survey had me really look back at this habit I don’t even relate to any longer. For about 15 minutes I remembered times I haven’t thought about in years.

The contradictions smoking had in Asia back then are pretty amazing to me now.

At the spas in Taiwan, which have pools upon pools for swimming, waterfalls to get pounded on and large saunas, were the best I have ever gone to, and I have been to many different all over the world. There were steam rooms and gyms in most of these facilities too. This is a venue you can get healthy if you want and were really inexpensive in comparison to gyms. But once you got out of the pool areas, there would be a lounging place with free cigarettes for the patrons to smoke at their leisure. There were even cigarettes available in the locker area as you got dressed.

Cigarette smoking was just so damn accepted and encouraged.

My favorite story to remember was back in my non-smoking days in Taiwan. I got into a taxi that had a driver about my age and he discovered I was American. So he offered a cigarette. I told him I had a cold. So he tells me it will make me better. I try to decline, but this guy was convinced I would be better if I smoked. I eventually gave in and took the cigarette. I still remember his smile as he looked at me light up in his back seat.

I have never missed smoking since I quit and really can say the few times I have taken a drag here or there, I really don’t like the taste.

Honestly, until I took the survey, I had almost forgotten I had been a smoker at different points in my life.

Once I was done with the survey, I got off the phone and sat down. I had been sort of pacing while I answered the questions.

I found it really interesting to be jarred back to the past because of a specific time I had put out of my mind.

I can’t speak for any person but myself about looking back to the past, but it was truly enlightening to look back and see how much I have changed from that kid and guy who smoked.

It hit home to me, a person really can change over time.

Then I realized I had a column on spring to finish and went back to it, but I knew I wouldn’t forget taking the survey on cigarette smoking any time soon.

Here it is a couple weeks later and I guess I have proven, I haven’t forgotten.


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