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Amos Garrett

Spider's Online Diary

15 June, 2000--Farewell forever to Lady Nicotine:

Reflections of a recovering nicotinic
Spider Robinson

My name is Spider, and I'm a nicotinic. It's been one year since my last drag. Thank you.

I once went 18 months without buying a pack. But I cheated often. I've quit smoking dozens of times in 40 years...and whatever the duration, I always cheated, at least occasionally.

I haven't had a single puff since Quit Day. Not one. On Millennium Eve, I wandered into a restaurant washroom and saw a full pack of my old brand abandoned on the sink. Not a soul present. All over my body, molecules began to vibrate at a slightly higher rate. I did what I'd come to do and got out, without a second glance.

Twain said, "Quitting smoking is easy. I've done it hundreds of times." But this time is different, for me. This time I believe it's going to take. (Knock wood.) I'll always be a nicotinic, the way an alcoholic will always be an alcoholic...but this time I think I'm going to get over, and forever remain an addict who doesn't use anymore. It's *so* hard to get that tiger to sleep, I don't want to risk waking him again.

The thing is, I never was that smart before.

Why this time, then? One obvious answer is increasingly strident medical advice. But I had serious lung trouble much of my adult life, and it wasn't enough to break my addiction. Neither was the surgery that finally corrected matters ...even though it's reputedly one of the most painful procedures a patient is apt to survive.

Sudden late-life onset of character is another possible explanation, I suppose. But I doubt it.

I assign the credit to bupropion, marketed in Canada as Zyban and in America as Welbutrin. Originally developed as an antidepressant, it had problems in that regard, and its makers were about to scrap it when they discovered that it seemed to help smokers kick. I've tried several vaunted stop-smoking programs, hypnosis, acupuncture, vitamin megadose, gum, and many other methods. Zyban did it for me.

I began taking it with almost zero faith in it. I'd been on two other antidepressants, years earlier, and they'd done nothing to alleviate nicotine craving. Quite the reverse: they'd brought me back from a place where I was so despairing I couldn't even be bothered to smoke. Also, both had undesirable "side effects." (Theodore Sturgeon said there are no such things as side effects--only effects, some of which we call "side" in order to avoid discussing them.).

Zyban had no perceptible effects whatsoever. No ringing in the ears, no dry mouth, no funny smell in the urine, no dullness of affect, no erectile difficulty, no metallic taste--nothing. But I had a much easier time kicking tobacco than ever before. And even since weaning myself from the Zyban, I've had far fewer and milder cravings than usual.

Your mileage may vary. Two of my best friends, also longtime recidivists, quit the same week I did, using the same drug. One's still clean...the other says he's just about ready to try again. Also I'd be a lot happier if the makers of the miracle drug had even a vague theory as to how it works. But I offer my experience for whatever help it may be, to you or a loved one.

So what's it like to be tobacco-free for a year?

Downside first. To my surprise, my nose has not gotten even slightly better at detecting pleasant smells...but *is* doing a *vastly* better job of acquainting me with unpleasant ones. I can barely stand the smell of my own body and excrement, now, let alone the many stinks of the world. (Irony. My first novel TELEMPATH featured a mad scientist who enhanced everyone's sense of smell until technological civilization collapsed.) The improved sense of taste I'd expected from previous quittings has likewise failed to materialize this time: food tastes no better than usual. Sigh. Yet I've somehow managed to gain the usual 25 pounds. Requiring the usual total-wardrobe-replacement. If I have any more wind than last year, I don't notice it.

Upside: My chest never hurts anymore. My mouth never tastes like an ashtray. I never run out of smokes...or even pat my pockets to check. I'm saving money. I'll live longer, unless I don't. The federal and provincial governments have lost roughly 25 opportunities a day to rob me at gunpoint. Air travel is now an almost endurable torture. And the cataclysmic post-quitting clinical depression that antismokers never warn you about has, for once, failed to arrive. Is that because I began with an antidepressant this time? Perhaps in another 25 years the Guesswork-in-a-White-Coat that calls itself modern medicine will have an answer.

Best of all, I'm now more certain than ever of my motives in believing most antismoker zealots to be fascists. I quit in spite of them, not because of them. More than ever I despise their outrageous lies about the "deadly dangers of sidestream smoke"--and the venal weasels in government who, with their encouragement, have publicly gang-raped a legal industry, relentlessly mugged and insulted one out of every five Canadians, and paved the way for endless further curtailments of liberty--and the medical establishment which has evinced *zero* interest in making cigarettes safer, preferring to punish the addicted. I no longer suffer personally at the hands of health Nazis, but I still want them horsewhipped out of polite society--quickly, before they do any more damage.

And they've done far more than poor old Joe Camel ever did. Ever since we foolishly began empowering them ten or fifteen years ago, the rate of teenage smoking has relentlessly climbed, year after year. Everything they've tried having failed, they now propose to do it harder. Here's how clueless they are: they actually believe kids will be *repelled* by huge gross color photos of diseased lungs on cigarette packs! Or they claim to. Perhaps they're just trying to assure themselves lifetime occupation, berating and bullying yet another generation.

If they had anything approaching a conscience, they'd recall the advice of Aesculapius to the would-be do-gooder--"First, do no harm."--and would (finally) shut the hell up. But I'm not holding my breath...