Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Entry 3570 My Au Revoir to Smoking

As I have been reconnecting with old friends, several questions have arisen...and stories have been told that answer those questions. It has occurred to me that, rather than tell the same story several (or more) times, I should just tell the stories "on here". So, that is what I will do...starting with the story of how I was able to successfully quit smoking.

I started the dirty habit in 1980 when a friend bought a pack of Merit cigarettes at a bar and was clowning around with them. Since we were drinking it seemed natural so I smoked a few, and at the end of the night he gave them to me. The next day when I awoke I saw the Merits, and you know the old expression--smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. Well, I started then and I did, for 18 years.

In 1991 when I started traveling for my first route sales job it was a tough habit to get rid of, not that I wanted to in those days anyway. There was mile after mile of driving, sometimes for hours...and you soon learn that smoking can be an appetite suppressant, which means you stop a lot less. It also helps to lessen the monotony.

In the course of various route sales jobs I've spent significant time traveling alongside the Colorado River...for those that don't know, the Colorado separates Arizona from both Nevada (to the north) and California (a little farther south). It is a brilliant jade color...to tell of my affection for the Colorado River is to create another entry altogether, and is therefore for another time.

To continue...while traveling I would usually have business in Bullhead City, AZ, and I would stay just across that great river at the Edgewater Hotel and Casino in Laughlin, NV. As is true in pretty much ANY major Nevada casino, gambling is featured, and great hotel rooms can be had cheaply and huge food buffets are the norm. They want you to stay as long as possible, and gamble...so, cheap but good eats and comfortable accommodations are attractive options for travelers.

Well, late one night toward the end of August 1998 I was playing Blackjack and had run out of cigarettes. Now, the drinks are always free as long as you are at a table and gambling, and in past days the waitresses would also get you free cigarettes...the casinos don't want you to interrupt the vacuuming-out of your wallet and bank account (read: gambling) so you can go to get those things. PLUS...drinking impairs your decision-making capabilities, and some say cigarettes enhance that impaired-ness. But, I guess as the amount of non-smokers has grown and costs have risen, that free cigarette service has gone away.

Anyway...I ran out of cigarettes. And, after a little while, I also ran out of money...at least, what I wanted to spend. It was late, about 3 am...so I decided I would get a pack on the way to my room, which was on the 17th floor. There was a 24 hour convenience store just off the casino floor that was nearby to the elevator...which turned out to be, as it happened, a twenty-THREE hour convenience store--because, that's right, as I was going back to the room they were closed for a lunch break--"Closed until 3:45 am," actually.

I wasn't coming back down 17 floors after waiting 45 minutes just for that. So, no cigarettes. Plus, I was likely just going right to bed when I got upstairs...I wasn't going to smoke any more that night anyway.

I had been wanting to quit...it's kind of hard to smoke here in the desert southwest when the temperature gets hot, because the air is already really hot, and the idea of inhaling more hot gases (that also just so happen to be toxic) into one's lungs was losing its appeal...and I had gotten it down to smoking just at night, when I would have a few drinks and "think about the day's events." When I awoke I knew that I wouldn't be lighting up, and wouldn't miss smoking until later on that evening when I would have my traditional two or three evening cocktails.

I awoke and began my day as expected. One of my stops that day was just south of Laughlin, near Fort Mohave, AZ...it was a convenience store owned and operated by the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT). Indian stores like this are very popular places to buy cigarettes and tobacco products, because the reservations are exempt from many federal and state regulations and taxes, and are thusly able to sell tobacco products for much less. However, the federal government had passed a bill bringing a huge tax increase to cigarettes and all tobacco products, adding on at least $1.10 to each pack, starting September 1. The reservation stores weren't going to be exempt from this one.

Today was September 1.

I get to the store and there are many Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs and Buicks with license plates from Nevada and California and of course Arizona in the parking lot. In those days cellphone use was rare--instead, there's a line on the side of the building outside by the pay phone that was made up of older retired gentlemen waiting to use it.

They're all there to buy cartons of cigarettes, brand name ones, too...they've showed up with around $200 in cash, expecting to purchase 10 cartons at about $20 a carton...only now, they're like $35-45 a carton...what to do? So...they're each waiting their turn to call home and check with their wives as to what to do. Should they get the same brand? A cheaper one?

I was very amused. I laughed hard.

There was a large Colorado River Indian man named Warren that worked inside. "Sorry, but I think this is all hilarious. I know it hurts your business, so please don't be offended", I told him. "They've only been talking about raising the tax on tobacco for months now."

Warren's response was that the store--and the CRIT--would still do okay. If anything, they would sell even MORE cigarettes, as the off-brands used lesser quality tobacco and more filler, so one of those cigarettes would be less satisfying than a name-brand one. This meant more cigarettes for the same smoking experience.

"People can't quit...or don't want to. That'll keep us selling them no matter how much they are", he said.

I laughed again and said it was enough for me.

"I just quit!", I told him.

Any time after that, when I would get the urge to have one, I would remember how the moments were structured such that I was able to quit, and then given good reason to do so.

"Well, James," you say, "what about cigars? Haven't you mentioned here that you like a good cigar, and a strong 7&7, when you write?"

Cigars are a whole 'nother story, my friend. It's not the same. Since 1977, before I smoked anything else, I've enjoyed cigars. And, although there are still some health risks, I probably always will.

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