I'm not sure how it all began. But as with anything that comes under the heading of "first loves", you fall hard and you fall fast.
Maybe "first love" isn't the correct term. I remember being more-than-slightly repulsed from the first few puffs I had. But, see, I didn't smoke for the "taste" of cigarettes - that would come much later. I had other reasons for smoking, which at that time, seemed like all that mattered.
I only started smoking when I was in college - coming from a conservative religious high school, smoking was more than frowned upon. (In all my time in high school, I don't recall anyone ever being caught red-handed with cigarettes in their possession.) Mind you, this is a school where a few teachers practiced corporal punishment - so you get a picture of what hellish delights await students who ever broke anything in the official student handbook.
Once I stepped into college, the overarching sense that I felt was freedom. Free from all the stifling rules, freedom to dress the way I wanted, freedom to go anywhere and be anyone - I'm sure most, if not all, of my classmates would have felt that same sense once we got out of our high school. The world being our oyster, and all those other expressions - it really did feel like a different world was being opened before my eyes.
I also fell into a wonderful group in my undergraduate days. Everyone was incredibly smart, and save for a couple of people (making them a miniscule minority), no one bothered to make judgements and moralistic pronouncements on what we did, laughed about, etc. What a big change from where I came from - where every opportunity was seized to tell us of our "shameful" ways and what we had to do to be "healed".
I got introduced to my first Marlboro, partly because many people were doing it, but also because the need to be part of a group was stronger. Thanks to a huge ad budget, Marlboro seems to be the brand that most people first taste when they start smoking - at least on campus.
I remember being the "rebels" in our block, the kind who would tune out in class, generally just do the minimum work and yet still manage to get through subject after subject. Part of the "signature" of the small group I was in was the smoking, and somehow, it felt really good to be seen as the "bad element" - believe me, I've never been identified as a bad anything up to high school; if anything, I was an overextended extra-curricular achiever back then. The Marlboro represented my badge of freedom.
I was also facing difficulties on the homefront. It's exasperating to come home, day after day, when one continually argues with family, over things which I had no control of. I had to find a way to also tune out the ruckus that awaited me on a daily basis. Smoking easily provided me with that escape - I could be in my room, with my (generally brooding) thoughts, focused on myself and on no one else.
It was also only during this moment that I felt decisive enough to do something about my weight, and started going to the gym. Having been called "fat" all my life (I have a picture of when I was about 4 or 5 years old, I had leg braces on because I was so heavy that my legs turned in) I had developed a thick skin and had learned to deal with any negative comments (generally by being snarky). An interesting side effect that I had learned from smoking was that my taste buds felt "dead" (read: I couldn't taste food at all, or very minimally), and I also felt my appetite decreasing. I could actually go on a full day with no meals as long as I had my cigarettes.
In hindsight, this "formula" would be idiotic (if I was to be kind), but when I started going to the gym to work out, I coupled the physical exertions with my nicotine inhalations. In my mind, I figured, calories burned from the workout and no food intake, thanks to the ciggies - more success with the weight loss goal. (The idiotic part? When one works out, our lungs become more open due to the increased oxygen supply needed - and right after that was when I would light up my cigarette. It didn't help that I also had a social group at the gym with whom I smoked with, undoubtedly with the same skewed method of reaching our goals.)
Oh, I was successful with that goal. I lost over a hundred pounds. At that point in time, I was smoking from sun up to sun down. The moment I left the house, I would light a cigarette, and the only time I would put the light out was when I was entering our gate at home. My tastes in cigarettes also changed, and I felt I had "graduated" into a "sleeker" brand. This was when I wanted something "smoother". So I seeked out other brands, the ones called "blue seal" in smoker parlance, as they were imported. (Surprisingly, despite the general "deadening" of my taste sense, I could tell the difference between these newer brands and my faithful Marlboro.)
The physical symptoms I had from smoking progressively worsened. I had an infernal itch in my throat that didn't bother leaving, the way it did when I was just starting the habit. Phlegm was now being exhumed from both nasal and oral cavities, and they were slightly green-orange in color (I assume some blood was also being expelled together with the mucous-like substance) and very, very sticky. I once blew my nose and only blood came out, without the phlegm. At this point in time, I was smoking 5 packs a day. I became so identified with my cigarettes that other smokers who knew me would come up to me and ask or offer to buy from me when their supply ran out. (2 professors of mine even asked me for some.)
Like all smokers, I had attempted to quit also. Right before that current load of 5 packs/day, I had tried quitting at least thrice, limiting my sticks, cold turkey, or switching to the "Ultra Light" Marlboros. (Which was a big hit with smokers, giving the false illusion of ingesting less nicotine.) But like all first loves, the only way to end it was with a devastating blow - one that will ensure that you will wake up with the realization that your first love is over.
I was waiting in line for another semestral registration (UP is known for its' delightful registration process) when I felt like someone clubbed me from behind, that I felt a gush of air exhumed out of both my nose and mouth, and I suddenly felt weak in my knees, that I had to stagger to the next available seat I could find. I started shaking uncontrollably - I remember those images of epileptic patients haveing an episode - and when I tried to get to the pay phone to call for help, I couldn't even put the coins in the slot provided nor dial the number because of the intense shaking of my arms and fingers. As my breathing became more hurried and shallow, I started sweating profusely and looked like someone in a wet T-shirt contest. I inadvertedly became a sideshow during the registration process as students just continually gasped, stared and pointed at me.
This went on for a good half hour (definitely more than that). I had to exhaust all my focus on calming myself voluntarily until I got to normal breathing once again. I could smell the sweat on me - it smelled like a cloth that was dunked over a pool of used cigarettes. The nicotine was literally seeping out of my pores. It didn't want my body anymore. And on that day, both my body and mind never looked back.
It took a week to clear out all the residual phlegm from my body. Mentally, I was resolved to no longer have that insane experience again - not when this was something I could control.
The love affair was over.
This is my personal experience with smoking. I don't know if someone else had the same or a similar experience, I'm just grateful to have kicked the habit and I have been nicotine-free for more than a decade now. I don't mean to judge, although I realize that this piece may well be thought of as such. But these are the facts as they have happened to me. I know how difficult it is to quit - the pull and the romance of the stick can be very, very difficult to overcome. A non-smoker will never know what that struggle feels like (for those who wish to quit).
They say that the only way to quit an addiction is to replace it with another one. If anyone has any suggestions, I'm open to them.