Its been almost three months since I lit my last cigarette. It feels good to have given up that habit, yet I miss the moments associated with it. I cant think of anyone having done a better job than cigarette marketers in associating their products with the various moments in life. Celebration, commemoration, happiness, grief, victory, loss, together with friends on a boat or in solitude by yourself at the beach, a Marlboro/Benson & Hedges/Player's was relegated as the ultimate accessory for all occasions. It actually made a lot of sense too, guys and girls bunking classes to take a smoke, or sitting by ourselves with very little money and "splitting a fag"! It was daring to smoke, it was an expression of rebellion, it was a sign of being old, grown up, mature and adult, it was all that and it was kind of cool too. One thing is for sure, it was a beautiful part of growing up.
I started smoking rather late as compared to some of my friends who had been puffing on the "death sticks" (as one of my friends call them) since they were fifteen or something. I used to be a big non-smoker, lecturing my friends about why its bad for them, till one day, on a very depressing night of March 1998 I stopped my car near one of those small Karachi kiosk that sell cigarettes on one side and panadol on the other (its perfect irony) and bought 3 Marlboro Lights for 9 rupees and a cigarette lighter for a buck. I sat back in the car, put the cigarette in my mouth and lit the first cigarette, I had no clue what I was doing and I didn’t for another few weeks, that’s when a friend of mine taught me how to "smoke".
The initial idea was to get some attention from this lady, it worked, but i found that the lady wasn’t what I had in mind, the only good thing to come out of that stint was the cigarette itself and so it hung on. Marlboro lights was replaced Marlboro Reds which were switched with Benson and Hedges. I kept having thoughts about quitting, I kept thinking its not the best of things, but there was something about that 2 inch long roll of tobacco that just made so much sense. It was a bond breaker, a social communicator, a pick up line, an opportunity for informal discussions, and sometimes just a dam good feeling.
All that was in an environment with no controls. I could smoke in any dam place that I wanted to as long as my mother didn’t catch me smoking. Public busses, university common areas, public parks, zoos, concerts, restaurants and the list continued. There was also no control over where I could buy cigarettes, from those little kiosks to general stores, etc, cigarettes were widely available to all who wanted to buy them. The quantity wasn’t fixed either, you could buy packs of 20 or just tell the vendor that u five cigarettes out of a pack.
And then I came to Canada – a place where one doesn’t see a single bit of tobacco advertising, no billboards, no TV/Radio spots no magazine ads, no inserts, nothing! A pack of cigarette in Canada costs at least $6 (Rs. 250) there are very few places that you can smoke. Some cities have put bans on smoking in pubs and clubs, you wont find restaurants with a smoking section, if you have to smoke, go out and come back after the smoke. I still continued my relationship with cigarettes. It felt incomplete with that roll of paper between my fingers.
In August I met someone who asked me when I would quit, my response was, when I cant sleep at night because of cough. Soon enough there were three nights in a row where I coughed so bad that I couldn’t sleep. Ironically I had been smoking Marlboro Lights those days. One night after a serious cough attack – I looked at my pack of cigarettes and said Sorry Dear Friend But It Seems We Have to Part Our Ways.
To date, I miss the cigarettes, not because of its nicotine content, since I don’t feel the urge for it anymore, even if I am in a smoke filled pub. I miss having a partner, old reliable Marlboro, the fall back plan, if nothing else works then I at least have my Marlboros.
Unfortunately, its one of those friends that our parents warn us about. It can be there through the best and worst of times, but there comes a point when we have to part ways with the friend. We know we will miss the friend, we know it would great to have the friend with us right now, but we also realize that in the greater shape of things its better that we are left in our worlds.
I guess that’s what its come to with cigarettes; great memories, good times, no future.