Tony Deyal, Contributor
You've come a long way, Baby! This was the slogan used by the Virginia Slims brand of cigarettes introduced by the Philip Morris company in 1968.
In a way, the world has come a long way since then - cigarette smokers are now increasingly under attack by the medical profession and a tax in most countries. As comedian Kinky Friedman said, "You have to work at it if you want to be a good smoker. Especially today with all the non-smoking world constantly harassing you."
However, in 2008, another slogan came to mind during a media interview with the US President-designate Barack Obama, by former NBC anchorman, Tom Brokaw. Obama admitted that despite his pledge to stop smoking, he still indulged. Immediately the media pounced on this for two reasons - one was the lack of self-control, and second, the inability to keep a promise. If he can't walk the talk now, what would happen when he moves from the frying pan into the pressure cooker?
They suggested that the 'Change That We Can Believe In' clearly did not apply to Obama and his cigarettes. He might have meant to stop smoking, but as I have learned from hard and bitter experience, it is not easy to do, and you have to be fanatic about it.
If the knowledge that smoking is dangerous to your health is enough to cause you to kick the habit, there might be no smokers at all. From the first racking cough, you know it is bad for you. If that is not enough, there are all kinds of warnings, not merely on the cigarette packs, but from the experience of other people.
There is a lot of advice out there and a lot of quips. The best way to stop smoking cigarettes is to marry a woman who objects to it. People who quit smoking cigarettes have the same problem as newcomers to a nudist camp - they don't know what to do with their hands.
Cigarettes are killers that travel in packs. Worrying about smoking can be beneficial - it takes your mind off lung cancer. You pay twice for your cigarettes, once when you get them, and second when they get you. The mortality rate of smokers and non-smokers is 100 per cent: the only difference is the timing. Tobacco is a nauseating plant consumed by only two creatures, a large green worm, and man: the worm doesn't know any better.
Yet, none of these help. You have to want to stop smoking so badly that you can withstand the pain of separation. The research on smoking shows that people who stop for any length of time are better prospects for totally kicking the habit than those who have never taken a break from the drug. Smoking is a behavioural problem that cannot be solved by knowledge alone. It is much more complex than saying to a smoker that cancer cures smoking or repeating the line, "I offered Dawn a cigarette. She refused. 'No thanks,' she said, 'I've already got cancer.'"
Smoking is the most insidious of vices. It becomes part of your self-image. To disengage from it, you have to remodel your mind and your idea of who you are and what you stand for. It is why some smokers cling so stubbornly to the habit, defying reason and any attempts at rebuke, remonstration and social isolation.
Writer Russell Hoban captured this brilliantly, "But when I don't smoke, I scarcely feel as if I'm living. I don't feel as if I'm living unless I'm killing myself."
The night I decided to stop smoking, I found myself in a gambling club at 4 a.m. out of cigarettes and desperate enough to try to smoke discarded butts from the ash tray. I realised that the person who was doing that was not the real me as I envisaged or imagined myself - proud, independent and free.
This was almost 32 years ago and I have now come full circle. I am allergic to cigarette smoke. Yet, the image of me that pervaded in my smoking days, and was part of the mystique, has been so deeply burnt into my subconscious that I still sometimes dream myself with a cigarette in my hand.
I can sympathise strongly with people like Obama. None of us can ever imagine the pressure he was under at that time. Having won one election, the pressure to win the next one compounds the stress. The more stress, the more you smoke, and the more you smoke, the less you are able to quit.
Under serious stress, we all resort to our comfort zones. Fortunately for me, smoking, drinking and gambling no longer do it for me. I head for the curry queue and Willie Wonka's chocolate factory, both just as deadly even though they are less polluting and smell better.
If Obama sneaks off for a nicotine fix, it is his comfort zone. Even though he should stop, the decision is not an easy one to enforce, especially while the episodes and situations that provoke smoking as a reaction to stress keep getting more intense and demanding.
Speaking of comfort zones, people can have a lot of fun without smoking, eating, drinking or gambling. A young couple had been married for a couple of weeks, and the man was always after his wife to quit smoking. One afternoon, she lit up after some love-making, and he said, "You really ought to quit."
Tired of his nagging, she replied, "I really enjoy a good cigarette after sex." He responded, "But they stunt your growth." She asked if he ever smoked, and he replied that he never had. Smiling, she looked him up and down, especially down, and asked, "So, what's your excuse?"
Tony Deyal was last seen commenting on the adventures of people trying nicotine patches. One man badly burnt his arms trying to light them and another put them over his eyes so that he can't find his cigarettes.