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Photo by Patrick Brinksma on Unsplash

With abounding warnings about the dangers of cigarettes, why would anyone start smoking in the first place?

I remember that as a kid, I just couldn’t comprehend how there could still be new smokers.

I understand that for some generations older than myself, the dangers of cigarettes weren’t quite as well known. But these days, that excuse no longer works.

The dangers of cigarettes had already been well-documented by the time I was born. There was no question that smoking was directly linked with lung cancer, heart problems, and many other serious diseases.

In fact, I’ve even had several close family members die from smoking-related illnesses. The harms of smoking aren’t just some abstract idea to me; they’re real and personal.

Despite all of that, I still somehow managed to become a smoker myself. It’s one of the worst things that I’ve ever done for my health, and one of my few big regrets in life.

Starting last month, I’ve been trying to quit smoking. I’ve been doing well so far, but I’ve been down this path before, and so I’m cautious about my optimism. With that said, I’ve already come a long way since my first week:

Quitting smoking has got me reflecting a lot on what started me smoking in the first place. I still don’t have a complete answer, but I think the single biggest cause was that I underestimated the addictive power of nicotine.

As a teenager, I thought it would be fine for me to try a cigarette or a cigar every once in a while. Even though I knew nicotine was addictive, I didn’t realize how quickly and easily that addiction could form.

“Experimenting” With Smoking

Strangely, I always loved the smell of cigarettes when I was a kid. My parents quit smoking before they had kids, but some of my relatives and family friends were smokers, and I could never get enough of the smell.

I always wanted to try smoking, even from a very young age, but mostly just out of curiosity. I figured that I would smoke a cigarette or two and never try it again.

I finally got my chance when I was around 15 (maybe 14?) years old, and a girl from my Sunday school got ahold of a pack. I remember enjoying my first cigarette, not having any of the adverse reactions that a lot of people report.

Throughout the rest of high school, and into the first year or so of college, I gradually smoked more and more often, but never with any real regularity. I would never smoke more than one cigarette at a time, and often went months without one.

To me, cigarettes just seemed like an occasional indulgence. As the years went on, I actually got less and less worried about the addictive quality of nicotine, because it seemed so easy for me to have just one cigarette at a time.

It was easy for me to ignore the fact that I was starting to smoke more frequently because it was still overall a rare occurrence.

My Switch to Cigars

I never tried cigars until I was halfway through college. I was at the beach with a couple of friends and we decided to buy a few cigars to celebrate an occasion that I’ve now forgotten.

I immediately loved the taste. I think there was also a part of me that felt some ridiculous kind of “sophistication” from the idea of cigars. Either way, I was sold on them.

The only problem in my mind at the time was that cigars were expensive for a college student. We had paid something like $15 each, and I thought I couldn’t afford that regularly. (Although, down the road, I ended up spending way more than that on smoking).

I soon discovered though, that cigars were much cheaper when purchased in bulk online. Back at college, I ended up ordering entire boxes, splitting them with my roommate who loved cigars just as much as I did.

Originally, we only smoked a cigar a week or so. With so many cigars on hand though, it was hard to resist smoking more often. It didn’t take long for us to get to the point where we’d smoke a cigar at the end of every single day.

I think that was the tipping point where smoking became an addiction for me. I loved the feeling of smoking so much that I ended up getting some cigarettes so that I could smoke more often throughout the day.

It started with a few cigarettes through the day and a cigar at night. By the end of the year, I had put aside the cigars and become a pack a day smoker.

I never even noticed how quickly my smoking had escalated.

I don’t have any explanation for smoking that makes my actions somehow logical. Nothing really excuses it or even fully explains it.

For me, the addiction just crept up. I made the awful mistake to experiment with cigarettes, followed by the awful mistake to switch to cigars, then the mistake to smoke them more regularly, and finally to switch back to cigarettes.

In the end, it was just a serious of very bad decisions that added up to an addiction that has lasted over a lifetime. I underestimated nicotine and overestimated my ability to resist it.

I hope that others won’t make the same mistakes I did. For now, I can’t change the past, so I’ll focus on moving forward and leaving these bad decisions in the past.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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