It’s late evening, Saturday, December 31, 1988 – 11:59 and 30 seconds PM, Eastern Standard Time, to be exact. I am lying on my bed, fully clothed, smoking a cigarette and watching TV where the New Years Ball is working its way down the poll at Times Square, as over a million people below both sober and soused work themselves into a fever pitch in anticipation of the new year.
When the countdown reaches ten seconds I take a deep drag on my Pall Mall, hold it in my lungs for a few seconds, then exhale. At the exact moment the ball reaches the end of its descent – when it has officially become 1989, a recording of Auld Lang Syne commences and the crowd goes bananas – I crush out the cigarette in the ash tray.
I get up and walk across the room, empty the ash tray into the wastebasket by my desk. I toss out the opened pack of Pall Malls containing six or seven cigarettes,and an unopened pack which had been lying on the desk.
Thus ends my disgusting and unhealthy habit of over 34 years. I have smoked my last cigarette.
On December 13, 1954, my 16th birthday I proudly purchased my first pack of cigarettes. It was the first day I could legally do so in the state of New York. In those days smoking was as common as breathing. Cigarette ads dominated TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. Athletes, movie stars and even doctors plugged their favorite brands. You could not see a movie set in modern times where the stars and extras did not light up. Mutual lighting of cigarettes was the predominant form of foreplay in movie love scenes.
For me and my contemporaries it was a rite of passage.
At first I didn’t smoke much. Even though they were inexpensive (19¢ a pack for regular and 21¢ for king size) my very meager allowance precluded smoking as a regular activity. I had to make a 20 cigarette pack stretch. But when I hit 17 and started working – part time during the school year and full time in summers – I became a serious smoker. For the next 33 years I averaged about 2 packs a day.
I was extremely fortunate in that I never had a smoker’s cough and never had problems with my wind. Most likely the latter was influenced by the level of physical activities I engaged in throughout my life.
I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed smoking. The moment I awoke in the morning I reached for my Pall Malls and lighter on the bed stand and lit up. I had another after breakfast while I read the morning newspaper. The drive to work included one or two more, depending on the traffic. On arrival at the office I would pour a cup of coffee and light up. By quitting time the ash tray on my desk looked much like the above photo.
Thinking back to those years I am ashamed. Smoking is a dirty, disgusting and dangerous habit. I wasn’t stupid. I was well aware of the potential health consequences, even though I had no apparent ill effects. I contemplated quitting often over the years but somehow it was always a “One of these days I gotta,,,,” thing.
I don’t recall exactly when I finally made it a firm decision. It was somewhere around my December 1988 birthday – – the big 5 – 0! That’s when I decided on the stroke of midnight at the birth of the new year. Then I would always know exactly how long it had been since quitting. 😉
At this very moment (4:58 PM) I can say with exact certainty that I have not smoked a cigarette in 23 years, 7 months, 9 days, 16 hours and 58 minutes!
I was surprised at how easy quitting was. Even during the three day period needed to be rid of the physical addiction I only had to remind myself of my resolve when the urge came upon me. After that, it was only mental. When I thought about smoking I would merely remind myself that I didn’t need to. In time, even the thought disappeared.