Did I Say That? High price of foolish habit: life going up in smoke

I’m a millionaire. At least in theory.

You see, I quit smoking and with the price of cigarettes going from $10.15 a pack to $13 in New York City, where I work, I’m saving big bucks I can put to good use on my other bad habits, which means to say I can buy an ample supply of Doritos, Cheetos, Little Debbie zebra cakes and Red Bird candy.

Actually, I quit smoking before it was fashionable to do, so I’ve probably saved close to a cool million adjusted for inflation, although it’s tough to calculate because cigarette prices are a moving target. At $13 a pack, my habit (or should I say “addiction”?) would cost me $12,000 a year.

Mayor de Blasio was pretty proud of himself when he announced cigarettes will go to $13 in January, the highest in the nation and far above the national average of $6.16, which includes state tax and a federal excise tax of $1.01.

Connecticut has the second highest tax in the country at $3.90, which is behind New York at $4.35 but well above the average of $1.69. New York City adds a separate $1.50 tax per pack. If the cost compels people to quit smoking — especially kids — that’s a good thing although I suspect many may turn to the black market.

I shudder when I look back on the years I smoked. I had a 2 1/2-pack-a-day habit, and I associated every activity with a cigarette — the morning cup of coffee, the Ballantine Ale at lunch, at dinner and after dinner, watching TV, reading, recreation and relaxing.

When I woke, I had a cigarette to stop the smoker’s cough, and when I went to bed, I had a cigarette as a nicotine nightcap. In those days, we lit up everywhere we went because there were no prohibitions, so I smoked at home, at work, on the street, in the newsroom, in the restaurant, on the train, in the car, at the gym and in bed.

My mother used to yell, “You’re going to burn this house down!” But I ignored her and kept my collection of ashtrays overflowing with butts.  

Camels, Luckies, L&M, Tareyton, Kool, Parliament, Winston, Kent, True, Marlboro — I smoked them all and enjoyed them all. I smoked to be cool. I smoked to relax. I smoked for pleasure. Yes, I enjoyed sucking smoke into my lungs and blowing it out in rings that dissipated in the air like silhouettes of imaginary creatures.

Those foolish pleasures came at a high price. My fingers, teeth and nails were stained yellow from tar, along with the walls of my apartment. And the stench of stale tobacco permeated my clothes, my furniture and everything around me. I don’t even want to think about the damage to my lungs.

I started smoking at 15 and quit at 25. Kicking the habit was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I did it before the advent of self-help groups, hypnosis, medication and electronic cigarettes. The pain of nicotine withdrawal lingered awhile, but breaking the psychological addiction was much more difficult. Coffee was never the same again and neither was the Ballantine Ale, so I gave that up too.

I was one of the lucky ones. I didn’t develop any respiratory ailments — or lung cancer. However, my father, who smoked a pipe for many years, wasn’t so fortunate. He got throat cancer in his 50s and was given a 20% chance to live. He had to have radical surgery on his neck. He survived. He put the pipe away. He thanked God.

So make the effort to kick the habit. It will be one of the hardest things you do, but it will be an accomplishment you’ll be able to brag about to your grandchildren because you’ll live to watch them grow up.

I confess that even though I quit years ago, there are cool autumn evenings when I’m walking behind someone who’s smoking, and the smell of tobacco is so enticing I think I can handle just one. Old habits die hard. The temptation never does.
Now, if you excuse me, I’m going out to spend my millions.

You may contact Joe Pisani at [email protected]
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