Thursday, August 19, 2010

Down The Smokey Way

Among the first things that I did upon gaining employment as a newspaper reporter way back in the early '70s was to pick up smoking.

[Interesting as the account would be, for courtesy's sake in this blessed month, we'll steer clear of the other, and much more intoxicating, major vice ... :-D]

Unlike most women who tested the waters with mentholated or low-tar cigarettes, I started strong, with a real 'kaw' brand, Benson & Hedges.

Ask me not the reason for picking up the habit because, after all these years, I still do not know exactly why. The most likely answer would be that I was seeking acceptance amongst my peers, to be regarded as 'one of the boys.'

Being young and impressionable, having a cigarette between my fingers seemed like the most glamorous thing ever. It felt so grown-up, so adult, to smoke a real cigerette in full public view.

My immature young mind saw smoking as a way of shedding my 'kampung' past. The gauche Dungun girl was no more; in her place was a worldly (so I thought!) young woman making her life in a big city.

At the time, there was no way I could fight (even if I had wanted to) the urge to steer clear of cigarettes. Not only they beckoned everywhere I turned, they were also cheap (at RM2.50 per pack) and plentiful.

Also, it was a different era altogether, a time when smoking was as natural as belching and breaking wind. Besides, there was no stigma attached to smoking.

And there was nobody breathing down your neck expounding the virtues of not smoking either. Neither were you treated like a pariah for puffing away.

Back then, doing cigarettes was so lame and tame compared to what many others were indulging in - smoking pot - hashish, ganja, marijuana, the works.

Everywhere I turned on the editorial floor, I saw cigarettes dangling from someone's lips. In fact, one would be hard put to find a non-smoking journalist.

The editorial floor reeked of stale smoke, but we were too busy churning out stories on our rickety typewriters, and chain-smoking, to worry about such trivial things like stale air.

In today's newsroom, however, off you go to the corridors for a puff. Newsrooms are so clean and sanitary you could eat off the floor.

And the atmosphere of today's newsroom too is so boringly mellow, unlike in days of old when the air would be blue with curses (we swore a lot, and loudly too, those days).

In all, I had put in some 32 years of puffing. I shall refrain from calling the habit 'filthy', not because I once belonged to the same fraternity but because I don't fancy being sanctimonious.

I was packing in two and a half packs a day. That translates into 50 sticks daily. I had gone through the whole gamut of brands in the process; you name it, I had tried it.

From lembik ladylike ones like Cartier and Virginia Slims to jantan macho ones like Camel and Dunhill, I have had a whale of a 'good' time congesting my lungs with tar and staining my nails and fingertips with nicotine.

Whilst servicing the Thai Tourism Board in the early to mid '90s, I was taken by a rather mild local Thai brand called 'Falling Rain' and bought them by the cartons each time I travelled north.

In addition to cigarettes, I was also addicted to cigarillos for they complemented 'the other vice' pretty well. Those days, apart from work, my life revolved around the two vices and nothing much more.

I had never taken a shine to kretek; not only I found the aroma cloying, kretek also had this disgusting tendency to burn holes in your clothing quite easily.

Smoking was indeed a strange habit, at least where I was concerned. Throughout my four pregnancies, I could lay off cigarettes (and 'the other vice') without any hassle at all.

Yet I picked up where I left off the moment I returned to work. Excuses reeled off easily then for not quitting, the main one being "I can't think/write creatively without a cigarette on my lips."

Of course it's crap reasoning. I should know because I have been writing creatively for the past six years without this crutch. I quit cold-turkey in 2004 and have not picked up a single stick since.

I guess I just didn't feel like letting go because smoking was such a pleasurable thing to do. Shoot me if you must, but that was the absolute truth.

It didn't matter that smoking was harmful to your health. All things considered, smoking was really one of those 'feel good' habits.

Three years into my marriage to fellow smoker Pak Abu, I was beginning to feel tired of smoking. Somehow it had ceased to be an enjoyable pastime.

Each time I reached out for a cigarette (after a meal, especially), it was a reflex action more than a real need, and I knew it. I still craved for them, though. Like most diehard smokers, my addiction was intense.

Then one day in 2004, with one half-full pack in hand I suddenly decided the stick I was puffing on at the time was to be my last. Scrunched the aforesaid pack and launched it into a wastebasket I did.

Thankfully, I did not suffer any withdrawal symptoms for quitting cold turkey. Instead I felt a sense of relief that I had managed to overcome my 32 years of addiction without as much as a whimper.

For so long I had nursed this notion that Hell would freeze over before I could, and would, lay off cigarettes. I had not banked on quitting being so painless.

I guess I had once again underestimated my own willpower. Still, it felt good to be in control of one's own destiny...


NanaDJ said...

What an accomplishment. To be able to stop without going through the whole cold turkey business. We are a family of non smokers except wait a minute, for the youngest son who is still at it despite our disapproval. Insyaallah, he will be able to stop one day like you did!
So poor Pak Abu has to smoke alone.

Kak Teh said...

Puteri, I rememer the days when the editorial floor was so smokey and would get worse by about four or five oclock. The funny thing is during Ramadhan you see somne people just holding the cigarettes between their fingers (unlit) as they anged onto their typewriters. Tak hisap pun tak apa .
Fify a day and yet it didnt affect your voice at all...
My mother and kak liah used to smoke. Pak smoked right until the day he died. We grew up playing games with cigarette packets.

zaitgha said...

all my life i known my dad as a smoker until one day i saw him not lighting a ciggie after a meal....i didnt ask him anything.....i wondered how or why he quit smoking....only knew about why after he passed away when my sister told me.....there was time he was hospitalized in GH for some minor op...he smoked in the loo and the lady cleaner was cursing and cursing about the ciggie butts on the floor and all the while he was in one of the cubicle.... feeling foolish i think he decided to quit smoking he he......

Itsy bitsy said...

If smoking is your sin, so be it.
It's better to be a smoker than a philanderer.
But i admire your will-power to go cold-turkey.
Don't you sometimes missed it.
It's really nice after a pedas meal and coffee.

mekyam said...

several years ago, a work colleage of mine was convinced by someone that smoking would help her lose weight. she'd tried everything else to no avail. so she took up smoking and true enough within 6 months she trimmed down. considerably!

apparently nicotine is an appetite suppressant. she didn't stay on it long enough to make it habit-forming though, just to jump-start her weight loss.

i'm sure it was risky and not a healthy way to lose weight, but dang it worked for her. she did get her ears burned when her doctor found out though. :D

Tommy Yewfigure said...

Puteri, it was glamorous in those days to smoke because of advertising & all our screen heroes/heroines smokes, so macho & cool then. Back in school, i buy the 6 sticks packet, it was cheap too & worse comes to worse we can buy by the single stick too at the mamak stall..kakaka. It was fn then :))

From the house of Dunhill,


Kama At-Tarawis said...

nana - i guess it was because i was feeling 'jelak' of rokok already by then, tu yg boleh quit.

kakteh - i was one of those pppl too kakteh, bulan puasa dapat selit unlit ciggie kat jaripun jadilah.

zai - the cleaner must have said something really teruk to affect him to the point of quitting! lol

itsy - put it that way, i guess you are right. i was then a committed smoker and drinker, nothing more... nasib baik dapat berubah. thankfully, since quitting i hv yet to feel the urge to take a puff.

mekyam - it is true that cigarette is an appetite supressant. i was superduper slim and trim as a chainsmoker. makan tak perlu then, my main diet was rokok and black coffee.

tommy - dunhill man, eh. for the longest time i smoked peter stuyversant cos i liked its smoothness. towards the end of my smoking 'career' i was into mentholated ciggies..

ninotaziz said...

That was a kicker. I wouldn't have guessed it.

Gaya Mutu Keunggulan.

That was the last cigarette I had. I was in Standard One - behind the house next to the longkang with my younger brother who was four.

I immediately vomited into the drain and remembered that the tree branches were so close to my face.

ninotaziz said...

By the way, I few weeks ago I was doing some research on Pak Samad. And it looked like his news room was exactly like yours! Only smaller and dingier maybe back in the 40s 50s where the toilet (shared) was covered with a slip of a tirai kind off cloth.

And yet that very atmosphere (including the swearing ...and vulgar jokes)produced geniuses at work!

Sigh.... I am old before my time, missing the life I never knew...