I have always had a romantic relationship with cigarettes. I remember watching those little paper cylinders hang on the lips of my favorite cinematic heroines and daydreaming about that adult moment when I would light up a cigarette at the end of a long day and effortlessly exhale a sophisticated sigh of relief.
When I did eventually try my first puff, it was hardly glamorous. A couple choked drags on some kind of Menthol Light, on a misty stoop during a particularly dull house party in college. Although the notion of smoking aesthetically appealed to me, a lifelong, debilitating addiction did not. Many members of my family smoked a long time and managed to quit late in life, always a thousand times the better for it. But, a lot like smoking weed, dabbling in conventional smoking circles opened up a new social space that intrigued me and drew me in. Also — tobacco is super addictive, so after a while, it did feel as good as I thought it would.
After college, I relished the smoke breaks with fellow office girls at my first job. I watched how my sister wouldn’t get a break at her restaurant job unless she smoked cigarettes. I think my positive association was 50% joy at these rhythmic breaks in my day and 50% nicotine buzz. It felt very normal. Except I physically felt terrible. I was hocking loogies constantly. My sinuses were gunked up with mucus every morning and every night. It didn’t feel as good as it used to, it didn’t taste as good as it did the first month I smoked those shitty Menthol Lightes…the habit brought me more joy than the cigarettes themselves. And if you smoke cannabis, and already have access to smoking circles and intimate seshes that satisfy that craving, what’s the point? Really?
THE TOBACCO TURNING POINT
So, I was ready to stop. But I was not ready to stop smoking. Yes, I probably definitely have a predisposition for addictive tendencies, but I knew what I enjoyed most was the smoking part more than the tobacco itself. That’s where herbal smoking blends saved me. Sage and raspberry leaf have a nice body to them when they’re smoked, providing that good kind of burn I craved from smoking cigarettes. I still get to have my romantic rituals, rolling up a smokable on a bench while I read and puffing on something substantial with afternoon tea, but I don’t feel the same shortness of breath or mucus issues.
Being able to smoke something free from the toxins of tobacco was key to weaning myself off in a way that stuck. Instead of guilting myself out of the habit, I felt empowered to be deciding how and what I smoked.
Save for a few idealistic (and terrible-tasting) drags when I visited Tokyo last year, I haven’t smoked cigarettes in years. I don’t miss them at all. Want to know why? Because a lot more people are into joining a non-addictive, non-cancerous herbal smoking sesh than the cigarette smokers down the block. That special intimacy that comes with smoke breaks is a lot more fun when no one’s leaving the circle in worse health than when they joined.
Lauren Yoshiko is a Portland-based writer, cat-mom, and co-host of Broccoli Magazine’s podcast, Broccoli Talk. Her work has appeared in Broccoli, Rolling Stone, Forbes, Thrillist, and beyond.