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How to Make a Bad Habit Go Up in a Cloud of Smoke

There was a 16-page supplement in the paper the other day on how to quit smoking. It had day-to-day tips for negotiating the ordeal. On Day 1 you examine your reasons for quitting; on Day 4 you quit; on Day 7 you’re a nonsmoker.

It isn’t that easy, of course, nor did the supplement (sponsored by the American Lung Assn. with KNBC-TV and the California Department of Health Services) suggest that it’s that easy. Most people who try to quit find themselves backsliding. They can’t stand the heebie-jeebies of withdrawal.

The reasons for quitting are not hard to find. Heavy smokers are very likely to die of heart disease, emphysema or lung cancer, if they live long enough. Even if it weren’t fatal, it’s a dirty habit. You smell.

According to the American Lung Assn., smoking-related diseases kill 434,175 Americans every year. Yet 50 million American adults smoke, and 3,000 teen-agers start smoking every day.

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Coincidentally, I have received a packet of essays against smoking by fifth-grade pupils of Elysian Heights Elementary School. Maxine L. Reagh, principal, said the pupils were enlightened by two visitors from Barlow Respiratory Hospital, which has adopted the school.

A doctor explained what smoking can do to health, and a former patient was Exhibit A. She is oxygen-dependent 24 hours a day.

From their essays, the pupils seem to have taken the lesson to heart:

“Each cigarette you smoke takes 15 minutes away from your life,” wrote Yvette Rubio. “I don’t want to take any life away from me or anyone else. I just want to live life to the fullest. . . .”

“I will not become a smoker,” wrote Ana Santaollala, “because I care about myself and other people around me.”

“I shouldn’t smoke,” wrote Oliver Montes, “because I don’t want to get cancer and I don’t want to ruin my lungs. I don’t want to have a heart attack. I also don’t want to live all my life with tubes in my neck or mouth.”

“I would like to see cigarettes and tobacco become illegal to use,” wrote Jennifer Lee. “If you used them, you would get arrested for it.”

I don’t think I’d go that far. If people insist on smoking, let them die in misery. To make cigarettes illegal would do nothing but create a new class of criminal.

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What amazes me is the changes the anti-smoking campaign has made in our society. Almost every restaurant has a nonsmoking section. Many smokers do not light up in private homes. Most astonishing is that cigarettes have almost vanished from the movies.

The cigarette was a part of almost every scene in the 1930s and 1940s. Bette Davis could hardly talk without lighting up. She always gave long, meaningful glances at her male victim over the flame. Meanwhile, he was also lighting up in an attempt to remain cool (a word that was not then used in that sense).

A scene that soon was incorporated into almost every American courtship was that in which Paul Henreid lighted both his and Bette’s cigarettes on a single match, holding both simultaneously in his mouth. The next day every swain in the country was doing it.

I used to be addicted. I couldn’t put a piece of paper in my typewriter without lighting up. It was a ritual. A three-page news story required three cigarettes. A pack a day was never enough.

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I found it easy to quit. I quit a hundred times. Finally I decided there was no point in going through withdrawal if I wasn’t going to stay quit. My lungs hurt and I knew it was killing me.

I decided to quit on a day whose significance I would remember. My older son was graduating from high school. My wife and I played host to a group of his classmates at a post-commencement party.

That was the acid test. I knew that if I could get through that stressful evening without smoking I would have it licked. Somehow I made it. I have never put a cigarette between my lips since. Not once. That was a quarter-century ago. If I hadn’t quit then I have no doubt that I would long since have been dead.

During my withdrawal I suffered a few disagreeable moments. Especially when I put a piece of paper in the typewriter. But I pushed on. I had bad dreams. In most of them I had started smoking again. That’s what made them bad. I always awakened to find, with immense relief, that I had been steadfast.

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I am not suggesting that professional treatment is not indicated in some cases, or that the American Lung Assn’s. tips won’t work.

I’m just saying that if you want to quit, what you do is quit. Cold. Just do it.

It can be done.

You’ll live longer and your teeth won’t turn brown.

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