OMG, they’re shutting down Marlboro Country

“I want to allow this company to leave smoking behind,” Philip Morris CEO Jacek Olczak said in an interview with the Mail on Sunday. “I think in the U.K., 10 years from now maximum, you can completely solve the problem of smoking.”Domy Towarowe Centrum.jpg

Dang, I grew up with the Marlboro Man and the concept of Marlboro Country, the wide-open spaces where we were free to smoke cancer sticks whenever we wanted while riding our trusted quarter horses across the endless high range in search of lost calves and lost dreams.

Now I’m lost. I haven’t smoked a Marlboro since the 1990s, but as long as they were out there, I could always saddle up and light one up. We became addicted because you, Philip Moris, gave us what was once an acceptable way to do so. But now–or soon–I won’t be able to go back to those days even if I need to.

My addiction probably goes back to the navy when the CPO said, “Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em” or when the announcement came over the ship’s IMC (public address system), “The smoking lamp is lit.” Gosh, was it possible to be sent to the brig if you didn’t have a cigarette dangling out of your mouth? Perhaps not, but if you weren’t smoking, suffice it to say, you weren’t part of the team. So much for advancement!

I might have strayed from Marlboro Country from time to time.  I smoked Roxy in the Netherlands and Gauloises in France. But it wasn’t the same. Neither were Players and Senior Service in Britain. They tasted bad and didn’t have a country available where you could ride off into the sunset with cancer. At least Raleigh cigarettes gave out coupons you could save up for an iron lung.

So, we say goodbye, sadly, to Marlboro Country. Maybe not today. But soon. We’ll probably be better off once it’s gone because addiction never goes away. I hope this is one problem our grandchildren never have to face. They’ll have to find their own addictions, books maybe, or Philip Moris biscuits with a dash of marijuana.

Gosh, clean air. I never thought I’d see the day.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

Novels are like cigarettes: it’s not easy to quit

When I wrote Giving Yourself Permission to Quit, I resolved to stop working on my follow-up novel to my “Florida Folk Magic Series” because the plot was giving me too much grief and I was seriously sick and tired of researching more than I wanted to know about the KKK. I resolved to stop smoking many times (yes, I finally did quit) but failed more often than now. Some said it was harder to get off cigarettes than heroin. I don’t know if that’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Safer than writing?

I’m rationalizing that I haven’t failed because, although I’m still working on that novel, I’m not inhaling. That means I’m doing more research and tinkering with notes about characters and thinking about how to untangle the story. But I’m not really doing any writing. This rationale never worked with real cigarettes, so I expect my resolve about this book is probably in the toilet.

The novel’s working title is “Dark Arrows, Darker Targets,” but that’s just speculation because I’m not really writing it even though my muse and other dark forces are telling me I really need to do it. When I lived in northern Illinois and my house and car were snowed in, I once walked several blocks to buy cigarettes because I was out of them. That took grit, I want you to know.

Quite possibly, writing this novel will take the same kind of insane grit. Please, I don’t want either applause or pity, especially from non-smokers out there who don’t know what it’s like. Smoking, as I mentioned in an earlier post, is an addiction that never really goes away. I haven’t smoked a cigarette in 25 years or so, but I’m still addicted. Like AA and drinking, one cannot smoke a Marlboro every once in a while and be in the clear.

The same must be true of writing. Like any sane person, I’ve tried to quit numerous times, but telling stories is worse than being hooked on heroin. Think about that when you sit down at your PC and think “what could it hurt?” and type the words once upon a time.

Yes, it will be a joyful experience for a while. But then, before you know it, you’ll be writing more and more and you’ll be choosing darker and darker subjects. At this point, you’re pretty much toast and you need to go to a meeting and say, “My name is ____________ and I’m a writer.”

Seriously, must of us who aren’t smart enough to go to that meeting write what we write because the stories are important to us whether they find readers or not. I have no idea why this is so. Years ago, when I worked at a developmental disabilities center and was rising up through the ranks until I became a unit manager, one of the directors asked about my goals. I said that I thought that after working there for a number of years, I would ultimately become a patient. They didn’t like that.

So, when I speak of the mental problems surrounding writers, I know how innocently is starts and that even if you begin by shooting aspiring writers while they’re still happy (as Dorothy Parker suggested), you’ll ultimately choose the dark side and become a writer yourself. There’s no exit.

And yet, when this book I’m not writing is complete, I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. “Smokin’!!!!! Now the story’s all said and done,” I’ll be thinking when the first copies of the book arrive in the mail. After that, my muse will suggest a new book and I’ll be back to the daily grind after pretending for a while that I’m strong enough to quit.

If you’re a writer, are you trying to quit? No kidding, a pack of Marlboros might start you off on a safer addiction.

Malcolm

Still an Addict After All These Years

I’m still addicted to cigarettes even though I haven’t smoked one in over twenty years. Maybe longer. I know the addiction is still there because I often want one.

Years ago, there was a joke in which a guy asked a woman if she smoked after sex. Her answer was, “I never looked.”

The trouble with addictions is this: they get linked to all kinds of things. A lot of people lit a cigarette after sex, when they picked up the telephone, when they sat down to write, when they went out onto the church steps after a funeral, went in a bar, when they got in the car, so all those things (and more) became associated with smoking. And, like post-hypnotic suggestions, all those cues are just as strong now as they were when I quit (finally).

I started smoking in graduate school and started smoking more when I was in the Navy where cigarettes we cheap after the ship got outside U.S. waters (no taxes). We were told, years ago, that quitting smoking was harder than getting off hard drugs. That seemed like BS at the time, so I didn’t believe them. The thing was if we ever ran out of cigarettes, the angst was just as strong as a person on hard drugs who was looking for a fix. That should have told us something.

Having cigarettes on hand at all times was more important than anything else. When I lived in northern Illinois and couldn’t get my car out of the snowy driveway, I walked five blocks for a pack of cigarettes. That should have told me something.

I smoked when I had pneumonia and when I had horrible colds. That should have been a learning experience as well.

Quitting took a long time. Most attempts failed. What worked was smoking lighter-weight cigarettes over a period of time until I was buying brands that were pretty much like inhaling air. Then I got a bad cold, and when the cold went away, I was done with smoking. Basically, I wish smoking wasn’t a bad thing and that second-hand smoke didn’t annoy everyone else or get in my clothes and my hair so that I smell like a campfire. See, smoking is a constant temptation.

Nowadays, relatively few characters in movies and TV shows smoke. So, I find it almost shocking to watch an old movie in which everyone smokes. Those were the days when the guy put two cigarettes in his mouth, lit both of them, and handed one to his best girl. Hell, I remember doing that. I wish I didn’t.

Willie, a character in my Florida Folk Magic Series smokes Kools.  I never liked those–or any other menthol cigarette–but I still feel like lighting up a Marlboro when I write those scenes. My wife, however, is highly allergic to cigarette smoke. That’s all the reason NOT to buy a pack of cigarettes and light one “on special occasions.” I still want to, and that bothers me.

When we were young and thought we would live forever, too much booze and too many cigarettes were an extravagance we thought we could indulge in for a few years and then go back to a “normal life.” We were wrong.

There are still some places where employees go outside the front doors of their offices for smoke breaks. That means customers must walk through a cloud of smoke to go inside. I think smokers should have to stand farther away from the front door. Nonetheless, I still want to ask if I can bum a smoke.

What would I do if I could go back and “do it all over again”? The same thing, I think. Some of us just seem to have addictive personalities. Raleigh brand cigarettes used to have a coupon program, causing many of us to say we were saving up our coupons for an iron lung. Yes, we called cigarettes “cancer sticks.” We knew we were potentially doomed and we didn’t care. Is that crazy, or what?

Malcolm

 

Hello Withdrawal, My Old Friend

When I began smoking cigarettes, they relieved stress. They probably kept me from getting fat. They also made me smell like a campfire, but in those days smelling like a campfire was acceptable.

According to what I’ve read, a nicotine dependency is about as bad as a cocaine or a heroin dependency, though supposedly nicotine withdrawal is easier than the hard stuff. People using marijuana doesn’t have as or high a dependency as strong a withdrawal problem as cigarette smokers, so I’m among those who wonder why marijuana–even for health uses–is still generally illegal.

I haven’t smoked a cigarette for 25 years. However, if I see people smoking or think about smoking, my withdrawal returns at almost the same intensity as it did the first time I tried to quit smoking. It took numerous attempts to quit. But I’m not free of it. If my wife weren’t hideously allergic to cigarette smoke, it would be easy to start again.

My smoking began as a “cure” for a failed romance and then as a crutch for military service. That doesn’t mean that I blame either the lady or the navy. Smoking was a conscious choice, one that seemed to work. I don’t think I was smoking because it was supposedly cool or badass.

Like many people, I didn’t plan to get addicted. I thought I’d smoke a few cigarettes a day and quit whenever I wanted to. I ended up smoking three packs a day 25 years later with the distinct impression that I’d never be able to quit. The addiction was so bad, I smoked when I had the flu or a cold and once walked to the store in a snowstorm when I was out of cigarettes and my car was snowbound in the driveway.

As I write this, I want to light a cigarette. That’s how invasive nicotine is. I’m happy that there appear to be fewer people smoking these days than there were in the 1960s. The health risks are bad enough, but the withdrawal is a constant companion long after all the ashtrays have been thrown away.

My writing suffered when I quit smoking because I always lit a cigarette when I sat down to write. Fortunately, I can write now without lighting up a Marlboro. I am also capable of answering the phone or walking into a bar without lighting up a Marlboro. The trouble is, I really want to light up a Marlboro. Daily, I make a conscious choice not to do that.

It’s better if one just doesn’t get started. That seems so obvious now. But, in 1968 when I started smoking, we didn’t trust anyone over 30 and those were the people who said you’ll be sorry you ever got started. Hell, the bastards were right.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Lena” in which one of the characters chews tobacco and one of the characters smokes.