Smoking Blues

[Unathi Kondile- Youth Radio Cape Town]

At first my affair with cigarettes was one of love and hate. As a child I actually enjoyed that rich smell of Benson & Hedges. My grandfather would sit in front of the TV canning himself with one cigarette after the next. He’d take us to school and we’d get to class reeking of cigarettes but no-one ever took note of that or maybe they did, but they just didn’t associate the smell with your own child habits.

Smoking was everywhere and it seemed rather normal. At times I’d even sit outside just to savour the gardener’s roll-your-own tobacco. You’ve got to admit it! That roll-your-own tobacco stuff really has a great smell especially if it was flavoured. Ask me I’ve tried it – from cherry to strawberry to vanilla – that’s me: been there. done that.

Then there was a time during early teenagehood, that I really hated the smell of cigarettes. It was awful. I couldn’t stand it. And I somehow think it had something to do with my grandfather being diagnosed with an acute smoke-related lung disease of sorts. He then quit smoking and turned to candy. Boy was that something. We’d watch the man whom we’d grown to know as an avid smoker sitting in his favourite couch, but instead of smoking, he’d be profusely going at a piece of candy. And just like the cigarettes – one candy bar after the next.

But things got worse. In high school I was elected as a prefect. It’s amazing the stuff that goes on at high schools that one never really sees unless they start looking for it. For instance there were these groups of boys who’d always head to the rugby fields during recess. They’d lie in circles, smoking and exhaling the fumes into the grass. It was truly genius of them and no one could see the smoke. Needless to say I busted them and they hated me. A few months later I was sitting with the very same boys I’d busted holding a beer and clutching a cigarette in one had. Don’t ask me how that started.

No serious, I really don’t remember how and why I started smoking. I wasn’t stressed or suffering from any anxiety. There were no smoking role-models at home – except for that quitter called granddad, but he quit. From 2001 up until 2007 I was hooked. Smoking like my life depended on it. Things got worse in college. In college smoking seemed like a fashion statement – everyone did it and they looked damn good doing it. It even had seasons and trends. In 2003 everyone was smoking Camel Lights. And then 2004 saw Marlboro hit the South African market. From 2005 people went back to their natural habits, the fuss of American branded cigarettes faded, and people went back to mild Styvesant cigarettes. By this time I could barely run on a treadmill without jumping off after a minute. Tennis became a nightmare and my nostrils constantly felt like they were blocked. I hated smoking, but still did it. The worst was waking up and having that stale cigarette taste lingering in your mouth until you had that magical early morning smoke.

I hated smoking and thank goodness for doctor Phil. It’s really embarrassing to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: Doctor Phil changed my life. I remember staring at the TV and doctor Phil lambasting a group of addicts on his show. And then out of nowhere he said: “The best way to quit is to stop!” I realised the redundancy of that statement but it somehow resonated well with me and made sense. The only way I could quit smoking was to stop, put the cigarette down and just not have the next one.

It’s now been 7 months since I last dragged on a cigarette.

Previously By Unathi Kondile:

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