Smoke ’Em if You Got ‘Em

Via Ezra Klein, a chart of what happens to your body if you stop smoking right now

The idea here is to convince you that the benefits of quitting aren’t all long-term, that stopping will also improve your life in the short run. It’s a nice thought, but I don’t think it’s very accurate. Of course, people’s experiences of smoking are different. But I worry that it may actually be counterproductive for some people to gloss over the fact that if you spend ten years smoking a pack or more a day (like me!) and then decide to stop, it’ll really really suck. For example, they say that after 24 hours “your sense of taste and smell will return to a normal level.” That’s nice. But, again, if you haven’t been at a “normal” level for years, it’s actually quite unpleasant. And the idea that at 72 hours your “overall energy level will rise” is a fantasy. I’m sure there’s some technical sense in which that may be true, but I spent over a month feeling pereptually drowsy, confused, and un-motivated. The health reason to quit smoking really is “so that you don’t get cancer and die.” But it’s not fun.

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The one real short-term benefit that I think I could claim is that not smoking means less pathetic addict behavior. I know lots of people who smoke regularly, but not all that heavily, and who don’t actually egage in that much pathetic addict behavior. Quitting might in some ways be harder for those folks. But I was thinking about this today as I read Spencer Ackerman write “It’s funny how sometimes you have power over something even after you’ve spent a long time telling yourself your self-control was gone.”

Looking back, it’s remarkable to me how much power being an addict had over me. Making plans about when I was going to have a chance to smoke, or have a chance to buy more cigarettes. Almost missing a connecting flight in Chicago that I knew was going to be a close call because I couldn’t miss the chance to run outside and smoke one even though that meant I would need to go back through the security checkpoint. Standing outside, under an umbrella, in a hurricane, smoking and being very upset at the wind interfering with the process. You think of smoking as “not so bad” an addiction to have, because the substance itself isn’t as debilitating as heroin or whatever. But it’s still true that, to a remarkable degree, my whole life was being shaped around the fact that I knew I would need to either regularly dose myself with nicotene or else experience various degrees of intense discomfort. It used to be, for example, that I could barely sit through a long movie at a theater.