I could barely contain myself. I rip away the cellophane, pry the cigarette out from its cardboard container and bring it to my mouth. I light it, breathe in deeply, feel the twinge of harsh smoke against my throat and exhale.
It’s been so long.
My head is tingling and I smile slightly. So good, and yet somehow less satisfying. It’s not what I really want. I want my vape. I want the clean hit, the minty flavor.
I never thought I’d end up back here; arms crossed, cigarette perched gingerly between my fingers. I pull another full, throaty drag into my lungs. I needed this. It’s the first feeling of calm I’ve experienced in days. I shake my head in disbelief, I can’t believe I’m here again, this is so absurd. But this—smoking—will help me stop smoking. It has to.
Let me explain.
When I was in elementary school, I was subjected to a multitude of labels. Weirdo, teachers-pet, push-over, quiet girl, Jesus freak. In those formative years, I had never envisioned the label that would later define a near decade of my life: smoker.
By 16, I considered myself a “social smoker.” The occasional acceptance of a cigarette at a party progressed into asking my older, legal friends to buy them for me. Once I turned 18, there was no denying my dependency.
After eight years of smoking, I’m 25 now, the weight of my addiction felt enormous and stifling. I had been keeping the habit a secret from most of my family. Buying two-to-three packs, in California, meant I was burning about $30 a week. I knew I was doing something that could kill me (worse, give me wrinkles) and yet, there I would stand, puffing blissfully.
I told myself, I can stop. I will stop. I must stop. Just not yet, maybe tomorrow; after summer when the busy season at the restaurant is over; after my birthday, after the Vegas trip, once finals are over, after this last pack is finished, definitely when the new year begins.
But I wasn’t going to stop. Aside from the physical and psychological side effects of nicotine that crippled my self-control, smoking felt deeply associated with my identity. It was my every day, my emotional blanket, my brief rescue from boredom, the quintessential drinking companion, my alibi at a party when I didn’t know anyone or, often, the gateway to spark conversation with someone outside a bar.
Like so many, I turned gleefully to e-cigarettes to curb my shameful smoking addiction. Shortly after I began using Juul, the slender USB shaped e-cigarette, I stopped smoking cigarettes completely. I was very pleased with myself.
My smoker’s cough vanished. I stopped going through bottles of cheap perfume every two weeks. All the dirty, dismissive looks, angry slams of windows and the not-so-subtle fake coughs from strangers passing by the stoop outside my apartment became a fleeting afterthought. I no longer felt so bad about myself. E-cigarettes are supposedly safer for you, although in this case I may just be trading the risk of cancer for the peril of heart disease.
Before the Juul, I was confined to opportune moments and appropriate places to get my sweet rush of nicotine. Now, I could puff away on my little device all the merry day. And I did, fervently. In my apartment, in my car, in my bathroom, at work, in the bathroom at my work, at school, in the bathroom at my school. (Vapers love bathrooms.)
With no pesky, lingering smoke to give away my dirty little habit, I could get away with smoking in places I knew I shouldn’t, but would anyway because I thought I could get away with it, or if I did get caught, I figured no one would really mind.
The unforeseen consequences of my switch to the Juul was that I became even more addicted to nicotine than I ever was when I was using a lighter to get my fix. But this realization didn’t dawn on me until the day I dried up my last mint-flavored Juul pod, resolute it would be the final one I ever inhaled and chucked the device into one of my dresser drawers with other miscellaneous items—Polaroids, notes, concert stubs—from other past relationships.
As I closed the drawer on my addiction, I felt confident. I had expected to feel some cravings, but I was not prepared. Within hours my mind was plagued with rampant, raging thoughts of nicotine, like little thought needles pricking my brain with laser precision. Everywhere I was, with every task, I would think about hitting that bewitching device. It was incessant. It was exhausting. I couldn’t sleep.
Vaping had become associated with nearly every facet, every minute of my life. Not being able to figure out what to do with this new, overwhelming, sometimes paralyzing yearning, I did the only thing my twisted, addicted psyche would allow me to do: turn back to the real thing.
Hello old friend, I thought to myself as the cashier handed me my blue little box. It was a curious feeling, lighting up that first cigarette. It had been the first in a long time. Taking a drag, exhaling, and then wishing it was my minty-flavored vape instead. Now, as I try to diminish my nicotine tolerance by means of the original sin in hopes that I’ll stop once and for all, I smell gross and my teeth seem visibly yellower.
But hey, technically I’m not consuming as much nicotine anymore. But the whole cancer thing is looming again, so, I don’t really feel like I’m winning here.
I know my logic is flawed; two wrongs probably aren’t going to make this woman right. Smoking cigarettes to quit my vaping addiction is fiddling with fire, but it’s my bizarre method of bringing some semblance of control back into my life. But was I really ever in control to begin with?
I still think about smoking my vape every day. I think about how delicious it tasted, how superb each smooth, dopamine surged exhale felt. The delightful tingle in the base of my skull. Truth is, I’m just one drawer pull away from starting again. I know it’s there like a dormant monster lurking in my drawer, whispering seductively to me—Oh, c‘mon baby, it’ll be different this time.
I should throw it away. I just can’t bring myself to do it. In the moments where I feel the itch of a craving, entertain the thought of trekking that five minute walk down to my nearby 7/11 to buy those flavored pods, I walk outside, light a cigarette and hope it’ll be my last.