I've won my war against the weed

Here’s a man who definitely quit smoking three times —then stopped altogether. Now all he’s got to do is break his vice for the peppermints he sucks instead

CARROLL COBURN September 1 1951

I've won my war against the weed

Here’s a man who definitely quit smoking three times —then stopped altogether. Now all he’s got to do is break his vice for the peppermints he sucks instead

CARROLL COBURN September 1 1951

I've won my war against the weed


Here’s a man who definitely quit smoking three times —then stopped altogether. Now all he’s got to do is break his vice for the peppermints he sucks instead


You can stop smoking by a simple exercise of will power. I know. To borrow a famous Mark Twain gag, I've done it myself-four times. And each time was positively the last.

The first time didn’t require a great deal of will power—only enough to keep from jumping into a canoe and paddling fifteen miles through a northern Ontario wilderness.

I was working around a hunting camp on the shore of James Bay and for four days I was left alone in the camp. On the second day I ran out of tobacco, and decided to stop smoking. It was really much easier than I had expected for I had been led to believe that one suddenly deprived of tobacco was condemned to all the tortures of the damned.

Not at all. After three hours ransacking the camp to make sure I hadn’t misplaced a package I simply dismissed tobacco from my mind. In fact, by the second smokeless day I had just about decided to give it up for good.

My resolution lasted for about fifteen minutes after a boatload of supplies arrived. Then I was suddenly struck with a craving for tobacco that would have put to shame the discomforts of a drug addict. My throat grew dry, my hands twitched and my eyes seemed about to pop. There and then I resolved never to give up smoking again.

I kept that resolution faithfully for eleven years. I don’t count one small lapse in the summer of 1945 when I gave up smoking for nearly three hours and might have persevered with it except that I was obviously going to have a nervous breakdown if I did.

By the fall of 1947 I was smoking thirty or forty cigarettes a day and beginning to fear the habit might get a hold on me. My fingers, already stained a permanent yellow, were now turning dark brown. I was having a little trouble with a morning cough that sometimes caused my upper plate to pop out. So I stopped smoking a second time.

Actually it wasn’t quite that simple. I was driving from Winnipeg to Toronto when I developed a heavy pain in the mid-west. The next thing I knew I was in a Minneapolis hospital surviving a ruptured appendix. The doctors had me nested in an array of tubes that resembled the plumbing of a Turkish bath. I couldn’t have smoked if I’d wanted to. And for the first four or five days I didn’t want to.

When I did get around to asking the doctor when I might start smoking again I found I was in the hands of a fanatic. Every time I suggested how good a cigarette would taste I got a lecture on the evils of nicotine. The doctor reminisced gloomily on patients who had smoked after an operation, started coughing and ripped out three feet of stitching. He showed me pictures of smokers’ lungs filled with tar and said how many years longer they would have lived if they hadn’t smoked. He said there was enough nicotine in one package of cigarettes to kill five horses, which may explain why you never see a horse smoking these day 8.

By the time I was out of hospital the doctor had convinced me. After all, I had reached a point where the habit was more a burden than a pleasure. There had been plenty of times I had wished I could stop smoking. Now it was two weeks since my last cigarette. I had miraculously lost the craving and it seemed silly !o revive it.

It wasn’t always quite that easy. There were times, especially after a meal, or when I was with other smokers, when I felt that just one cigarette would taste pretty good. But I resisted. I had a suspicion that even one might revive the old feeling that I just had to smoke.

In the next few months I began to feel like a new man. The cough disappeared, I slept better, meals seemed to have twice the flavor and I put on twenty pounds. Every day I thanked my lucky stars for the jolt that had enabled me to break the habit. I no longer felt the slightest need for tobacco. That was why I started smoking again.

It happened one evening at a party. Someone offered me a cigarette and I wondered whether the habit had any hold on me still. I smoked one. I neither enjoyed it nor disliked it. It didn’t seem to have any effect at all. Certainly I felt no craving for more. At last I had tobacco licked, and to prove it I began smoking once a day—one cigarette in the evening after dinner.

Soon it became two cigarettes—after lunch as well as supper. Then, when I sat in a conference and the room

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was blue with smoke, it was more pleasant to be adding to the smog than merely enduring it.

Within six months I was again smoking steadily. Not nearly as heavily as before, but three or four packages a week. Gradually I realized that I needed that occasional cigarette; I was again a confirmed smoker.

It took another operation to stop me smoking the third time. I had a cigarette in the taxi on the way to the hospital but didn’t take any in with me because I knew my resolution would waver. Mv doctor this time was a smoker and I couldn’t count on him for support.

In the hospital my smoking problems disappeared. Perhaps there’s a strange alchemy in the atmosphere of iodoform, rubbing alcohol and cocoa that makes a cigarette lose its flavor. Anyway, when I left the hospital after ten days I was sure that I could take tobacco or leave it alone. For several months I left it strictly alone, just to make sure. Then I felt it safe to enjoy, say, one cigarette an evening, with certain safeguards.

The mistake I made before was in not controlling the number I smoked. As long as I smoked only one or two a day they didn’t do me any harm, and there was no question of a habit. It was only when I let the number gradually increase that trouble developed.

To prevent that this time I made certain rules. I’d only smoke one in the evening at home, two or three if I were out on a party. Above all, I wouldn’t buy any cigarettes—no use courting temptation by carrying them around in my pocket. Having to rely on what was offered me would be certain to keep me within bounds. And of course any time I detected a return of that old feeling that I needed a cigarette I’d stop at once. That was the red light.

It worked. Gradually I extended my limit to three an evening, or perhaps one in the late afternoon and two in the evening. And every month or so I would let a day pass without smoking, just to prove to myself 1 was still free from the habit.

That late-afternoon smoke was the one I enjoyed. If the day had been hard, it provided a pleasant relaxation. At first I had it about four-thirty, but in time I found it even more enjoyable around three, with perhaps a second one just before quitting time. Gradually I rediscovered the pleasure of a smoke after lunch. And four or five would last the whole evening.

The only rule I had to relax a little was the one about not buying. My eyes developed a tendency to assume a fixed stare the moment anyone else took out a package, and sometimes I could feel them bulging right out of their sockets. When friends started asking me if I’d ever tried thyroid treatments, I decided there was no

point in being too strict. After all, it must look a little odd to be always smoking other people’s cigarettes.

Soon I realized it wasn’t necessary, either, to actually count the number of cigarettes I smoked a day. All I had to do to maintain control was adhere to a ‘‘Not Before” rule—I would not smoke before two o’clock, before lunch or before 11 a.m.

To enforce the rule I would leave my cigarettes at home in the morning, and see how long it was before the pleasure of having a smoke was sufficient to outweigh the trouble of going out for a package. It became quite a little game to play with myself.

Then one evening on the way home I realized I hadn’t enough cigarettes to last till bedtime. I had bought a package just before noon and somehow it was gone. And I remembered there was none at home; I had finished a package the night before.

That Lime-Kiln Month

I began to worry. For the little I smoked a package should have lasted two or three days. I lied to myself that I must have been handing out too many free smokes. Soon my quota was back at thirty cigarettes a day. I knew I should stop. In fact I fully intended to —I was just waiting for a suitable time. But I couldn’t afford another operation and when I face it frankly I had to admit I didn’t know any other way to quit.

I went to bed every night with my mouth feeling like a lime kiln and woke up with a taste like a fur-lined sewer. There was no longer any pleasure in smoking — merely relief from a need that swiftly became intolerable if it wasn’t met.

At that point Mr. Abbott upped the price of cigarettes to forty cents a package. Right then I smoked my last cigarette. I haven’t smoked since — and this time I don’t intend to.

To anyone who wants to stop, here is some free advice:

First, you’ll probably go through a period when you want to stop, you’ll keep on trying to stop, and you just won’t be able to make it stick. You’ll try gradually cutting down on your smoking. Almost everyone tries that first. It never works, but the only way you’ll convince yourself is by trying it. Don’t be disheartened. It’s part of the process of learning that there isn’t any easy way to stop.

You won't slop smoking till you genuinely wish that you could never see lohacco in any form again. Make that decision firmly and the first half of the battle is won. The second half is to stick to it.

The simplest way is to cut yourself off completely from tobacco. Take a holiday in the bush, twenty miles from the nearest outpost. If you don’t get rid of the habit you’ll at least get a lot of healthy walking.

The next best bet is to associate wjth smokers as little as possible. Make sure that no tobacco is used anywhere about the house. If your wife is an

unredeemed smoker this may lead to difficulties. Perhaps the best solution would be to suggest that she pack up and visit mother.

The same difficulties in lesser degree will arise with the people with whom you work. If you are fortunate enough to be a corporation president you can enforce a “No Smoking” rule. Failing that, my advice is to spread the word that you have quit smoking. It will be greeted with loud guffaws but let these only toughen your resolve. Many a hero has been thrust toward more difficult goals through fear of what the neighbors would say if he turned back.

If an associate offers you a smoke your best defense is to look slightly scornful and reply, “Thanks, I don’t use them.” This will infuriate him and make you feel definitely superior. This assumption of superiority is one of your strongest defenses and should be cultivated. Never refer to others as merely smoking, but as “gnawing their cigars,” “bubbling through their pipes,” or “sucking on their cigarettes.” Refer to any well-filled ashtray as “that filthy mess.” On coming into a room where anyone is smoking be sure to remark, “What a poisonous fog! Anyone got a gas mask?”

Such petty mannerisms will not gain you friends, but they will give you a feeling of moral loftiness that may help to compensate for the pains of selfdenial.

On the purely physical plane I’ve found sucking a candy helps when the need for a smoke threatens to become intolerable. Peppermints are most satisfactory, but cinnamon, clove or even fruit drops will serve, and I have heard of people who got along on a candy diet of butterscotch.

Some psychiatrists refer smugly to people who find a substitute satisfaction in this way as being “arrested at the oral level,” which I gather is a pretty unsatisfactory state. Be that as it may be, if sucking a lifesaver helps when you’re dying for a smoke I say go ahead and suck.

If you really want to stop smoking, however, the most important thing is that, once stopped, you must make up your mind never to start again, not even one smoke. You have to be as firm about it as the ex-alcoholic is about liquor.

In the first few days, when you spend most of your time thinking about a smoke and wondering how much longer you can hold out, one lapse will put you smack back on the old path. The only comfort for you is that those first days are the hardest. You can keep assuring yourself, “If 1 can just hold out for today, tomorrow will be a little easier.” But the really insidious temptation begins when you are past those difficult days. The itching crawling craving for a smoke is gone, and you begin to feel that now you could really enjoy just one cigarette again.

That’s the red light. The danger isn’t tl at one cigarette will set you off on an uncontrollable orgy of smoking. On the contrary, one cigarette won't do you any harm at all except to convince you that another one won't, hurt you either. Once you fall into that frame of mind you’re lost. The end is certain. In a few days, a few weeks or a few months you’ll be smoking as much as ever. The whole battle will have to be fought over again.

There may be some people who can smoke an occasional cigarette, enjoy it, and never reach the point where smoking becomes an involuntary servitude. But if you’ve had to fight to break the habit once you don’t belong to that group. You belong with us who must choose either to take it—or leave it alone.