I remember the moment exactly. It's etched into my mind permanently. I was 15 years old, sitting on the hood of my mom's station wagon smoking a Marlboro. I thought, "I'm going to be a smoker. I know my mom won't like it, and I know my teachers and friends will try to talk me out of it, but I really enjoy being a smoker." And now, 25 years later, I'm joining the ranks of "ash kickers" who have broken free of tobacco addiction. I'm also asking myself, "Did I really choose to be a smoker?" For years, I thought I had because I assumed it took a long time for people to become addicted. Recent studies show, however, that addiction takes place far earlier than previously thought. Because I didn't believe I could be addicted in just a few weeks of smoking, I told myself that I was choosing to be a smoker. In retrospect, I now don't believe that it was my choice at all. I believe that I was already addicted and totally unaware that the feelings of "wanting to smoke" were actually "nicotine addiction."
How could I be addicted? I clearly remember four of us teenager girls all hiding in the bathroom at the corner gas station. One of us bravely dashed inside, deposited two quarters into the cigarette machine and pulled the lever, running back to the rest of us with a coveted pack of Marlboros, "the" brand of cigarette if you wanted to fit in. We all lit one and sucked in the smoke. We all coughed, turned red, struggled to breathe, drank water from the faucet in the sink, recovered, laughed, and repeated the process. Addicted to that? It would take a long time to get addicted to something that made us cough, wouldn't it? We had to force ourselves to smoke, burning our throats, our fingers, our clothes. We had to learn how to inhale the smoke without choking; how to force the smoke out so that it formed rings; how to flick the ash off the burning end in a way that exuded "maturity." Addicted to that? It would take months, maybe even years. Wouldn't it?
Today, scientific studies done show that teenagers have become addicted to tobacco after smoking only a few cigarettes a day for two weeks. There are several scientists who think addiction can happen after just one cigarette. Regardless, it is clear now that the addiction happens in a very short time. What I told myself was a "choice" to be a smoker was in actuality a denial that I was addicted to nicotine. And it took nearly a quarter of a century for me to break free of that addiction.