A black and white sketch of a hand holding a lit cigarette.

I am a cigarette addict not yet in recovery. The need to pay for cigarettes is decimating my budget. I continue under the excuse that I can’t function to do basic tasks unless I keep smoking because of how deeply the addiction is embedded into my system. Smoking wastes a great deal of time. It has caused me health problems, and it has caused me relationship problems. Quitting would allow me to focus more on work–thereby improving my future. So, you might ask: “Why do you smoke?” and I can tell you there is no answer. 

No reasonable person would smoke. And I need to stop this behavior. No mental gymnastics, no hocus pocus, no carrot sticks. I just need to stop. If you are reading these words, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ve stopped. Yes, I am lamenting. How I convert this into resolve–I must wait and see. I’ve resolved other behavior problems in my past; I have a good track record. 

It matters that the readers realize a couple of different things: Stoppage of smoking does not carry a threat of deadly backlash in the body, and this is unlike suddenly stopping alcohol or some hard drugs. Secondly, the addictive aspect of cigarettes is as bad psychologically as it gets. Because of these two things, it is important to gain some leverage. 

In my past, I’ve stopped behaviors because they posed a dire, immediate threat to my continued well-being. Smoking is enticing because it can be thought of as “just one more cigarette,” or “just one more pack…” One more becomes two more, then three more, and you continue from there. You don’t think in terms of how this habit is ruining your finances for the month, or how, in the future, you may not be able to breathe. Imagine the suffering because of not being able to inhale and exhale air. Imagine surgery to remove part of your lung or some other area that has become cancerous. 

I’ve been lucky so far, but this will not continue indefinitely. I know I need to stop, and I know this is the most efficient way that I can better my life circumstances. I am not in a socioeconomic position that readily allows me to do whatever I want. I’m in a position where there isn’t much money. 

It is easy to go into conspiracy theories. I’m not speaking of conspiracy about me. This is about the architects of society. Cigarettes are incredibly hard to quit once you start. Their use is widespread among poor people. The people on top don’t want to see the poor people bettering ourselves, because if we do, we become in their eyes, a threat to their positions on top. Cigarettes are taxed massively, yet many people keep buying them, as I do. They can feel like one small way to find pleasure and control when the circumstances of life offer little of either. But smoking drains the resources of poor people, income that could otherwise be directed at getting a leg up. And that’s all I’m going to say about conspiracy. 

So long as cigarettes continue to be available at every gas station and every corner market, it is a very hard temptation to reckon with. I wish lawmakers could do more. But it comes down to the fact that I must face this demon myself. 

Jack Bragen is author of “Revising Behaviors that Don’t Work,” “Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia,” and “Jack Bragen’s 2021 Fiction Collection,” and lives in Martinez.