Both my parents were occasional smokers although they seldom smoked much in the house. I always thought that I probably would start smoking one day but I wasn’t in much of a hurry about it. There was no taboo about smoking in my family, but my parents always advised that it would be better not to start. The only rule they made concerning it was a kind of age limit. “Once you’re sixteen you can make your own decisions about things like that; but not before…”
It all seemed quite reasonable and I was a fairly reasonable and well behaved daughter. However while I was 15, a lot of my friends started smoking and I felt a bit left out. They often offered me cigarettes and I always said no. It felt boring. The reason was not so much a feeling of obligation to my parents minimal rule, but more to do with vanity. I didn’t want to cough and splutter over my first cigarette in front of my friends. So one day I resolved that by the next time somebody offered me a cigarette I would be a proficient smoker!
One Saturday afternoon when my parents were out I went and bought a packet of Silk Cut (nobody in the shop questioned me as I could easily have passed for a couple of years older), took them home and started smoking. I didn’t cough nearly as much as I thought I might during my first cigarette when I was just taking the smoke into my mouth and blowing it out again. Twenty minutes later I had my second cigarette and this time practiced inhaling the smoke. I did cough a bit that time, but carried on anyway. Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the taste and sensation of smoking and the little nicotine kick that came with it. A couple of hours and about four cigarettes later I did begin to feel slightly sick and dizzy, but I didn’t mind. The following afternoon I went out for a walk and smoked a few more cigarettes. There was no sickness or dizziness and I genuinely enjoyed them. I was hooked.
During the next few months I smoked regularly when I was out with my friends. I wanted to tell my parents but felt awkward about bringing it up. I didn’t really want it to be a secret though so I started leaving half empty packets of cigarettes around my room and other places that my parents were likely to find them, hoping that they would bring the subject up. They never did.
Soon it was my sixteenth birthday. In the evening my parents took me out for a nice meal in a posh Italian restaurant. After the meal we ordered some more wine (technically in the UK I was still under age for drinking alcohol but I had been drinking wine with meals since I was about 12 and apparently the waiter didn’t realize I was only 16) and at that point my parents took out a packet of cigarettes and began to light up. This was my opportunity. I started looking in my handbag for my own cigarettes but they weren’t there. I must have looked flustered. Suddenly my Mum leaned across the table offering her pack of cigarettes and said “Do you want one?” as if it were the most normal thing in the world. “Emm…Yes please.” I replied a little nervously.
For the first minute or so I felt very self conscious smoking in front of my parents. But soon I relaxed and it felt normal. They had obviously known about my smoking for some time and had been waiting for me to say something about it. We joked about it. And as we sat there smoking and sipping wine I really felt as if something had changed. I was still their daughter and always would be; but now I was their grown up daughter and could relate to them in a new way. It felt good, and still recalls to me happier family times… .
I have been a smoker since that time. The majority of my friends have always been smokers. Smoking has always been a social and personal vice that I have enjoyed. For the most part of the last twenty years smoking isn’t something I thought much about, it was just part of what made me, me; like dying my hair, having an interest in philosophy and the occult, having tattoos, hanging out with bands, enjoying breakfast in bed on days off… It is only in the last few years while smokers rights have been limited all over the world that my smoking has become something I am conscious of, and I suppose defensive about.
Smoking was kind of the norm when I started. My mother was a heavy smoker who has since quit. My father only smoked cigarettes when he was stressed but often smoked cigars in the evening and at weekends. I liked the smell of his cigars. I used to smoke cigarettes at weekend parties when I was about 14. To be honest I don’t think I can remember the very first cigarette but I don’t ever remember not liking them… I do remember practicing different ways to smoke with my girlfriends so that I could look like a French actress and impress the boys! I think my smoking habit began early but slowly and gradually. In those early years it probably was only a handful of cigarettes at the weekend and on the way to school. When I was about 15 I had to get a note from my parents giving me permission to use the smokers area at school which in a strange way made my status as a smoker official. By the time I went to university at 19 I was regularly smoking a pack a day.
I continued smoking until I was 24. When I found out I was pregnant I gave up straight away without much difficulty. To be honest I never worried much about the health risks to myself from smoking although of course I knew about them. To me that was my choice. But I didn’t feel I had the right to impose my health choices on my child. I still believe that and would encourage anyone to give up smoking if they are planning a family. I didn’t have a single cigarette all the time I was pregnant or for about a year later. But then, pretty soon after I had finished breast feeding I started again and have been smoking ever since. I am glad I know the pleasure of a cigarette together with a cup of coffee or a few glasses of wine. Am I less fit and healthy than if I didn’t smoke? Who can say. I doubt that I would be any happier as a non smoker though.
It’s annoying when your parent’s stories are better than your own! Anyway… To be honest I never thought that i wouldn’t smoke. I was bound to be a smoker. Some will say it is because everybody in my family smokes and most of my friends and the people I like, and I suppose there is some truth in that but I think i would have started smoking anyway.
The first time I ever tasted a cigarette was when I was about nine or ten. My mum went to answer the door and left a cigarette burning in the ashtray. While she was out of the room I had a quick puff. I hated it! It made me cough and feel a bit sick. I didn’t try again until I was about 12. This time I was at a party with some friends. Somebody had bought some cigarettes and we all tried them. This time I quite liked it but most of the others didn’t. During the next year or so I became friends with some older girls who all smoked and I used to smoke with them at their houses and in cafes and on the way to school. Although I wasn’t smoking very much, it was regular and I knew I wasn’t going to stop. That’s why I decided to tell my mother. I was frustrated about not being able to smoke at home. I was nervous when I told her because I wasn’t quite sure how she would react but I thought it would be childish to sneak around smoking behind her back. Luckily, as readers of this blog will know, Sophie is quite wise for a mother and everything was okay. I know that she respected me for telling her and I think it was kind of the beginning of a more grown up relationship between us. Actually she got some criticism for it which I thought was unfair.Anyway the result is that while a lot of my friends can’t talk to their parents about anything serious, I tell my mother almost everything and her advice is usually good.
(This is an edited version of an older post with Tina’s part added).