The Real Reason I Gave Up Cigs…


The message was:  Cigarettes:  Keep you trim and even help you swim. Spouted by none other than fit-looking, aquatic mermaid-type, Esther Williams (seen in pic at right.)

I’d like to tell you I gave them up was because I had serious health concerns. But that’s just not true. After all, we were of the generation raised on James Dean, that young movie star who slouched about, looking petulant, a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, acting like a defiant punk, but oh, so good-looking.

Then, too, there was Esther Williams (I know most of you never even heard of her,) another icon of the day, performing her ballet-style routine in a pool with what amounted to her fleet of aquatic dancers–the mermaid version of the Rockettes. 

They all wore those tummy-tucking shiny suits with the panel across the abdomen.

She’d cavort in the pool for hours doing complicated routines, and then stop, mount the pool’s inner stairs, sashay over to her lounge chair, and pull out a cigarette from its  jeweled case. Then, someone appeared from somewhere to light it for her.

No breathless Esther…and no hint of cancer worries, either.

Yep, all these images coming down on this young girl had its desired effect.  I wanted to smoke. Wanted it so badly I picked up butts as I delivered newspapers for my brothers when they couldn’t do their routes. 

And I smoked them. I was only 12?

One time I sat in our girls’ bedroom and puffed a cigarette through the green organza, see-through curtains my Mom had just bought for our room.  I burned a brown cinder hole in it and doubled the fabric over, hoping she wouldn’t notice.

Another time I smoked, intermittently and kept the butts in a shell ashtray in our upstairs dormer, neatly tucked away from Mom.  But my sister, 4 years my junior, told on me.

When I finally left home to go to college, I smoked with abandon…and then I continued that habit for the next 17 years.  It wasn’t easy—I was a teacher.  When the kids headed for the lav to get an illegal smoke break, I headed for our teachers’ to get a legal one.

But I never gave up cigarettes for health reasons. That would have made too much sense.

I gave it up solely because I’d begun to feel like an outcast, a pariah, a person chained to a disgusting habit that—incidentally– could take years off my life. I knew smoking stank and I’d begun to feel unattractive.

That was the only reason I gave it up.

How’d I vanquish an awful habit that had me in its grip for a good chunk of my life?  I did a sort of self-f hypnosis, telling myself over and over how disgusting that habit was, conditioning myself to how it made me so-o unattractive.

I had to reroute all those Esther Williams/James Dean messages.

Quitting smoking was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but accomplishing it gave me the most satisfaction. 

Trying to quit? While you attempt it, keep a support group of others who’ve quit, be kind to yourself (as you eat ice cream;) take naps often (whenever the internal fight gets too much;)…and e-mail me, if it gets really bad (a friend used to call me each night, while on a trip, whenever she felt the urge to cave in, and I’d talk her through the crisis.)

I know it all—I’ve been there. And once I quit, I never went back….But it was NEVER about my health.  That would have made too much sense.

I will say this in support of all you trying to quit:  It was the single, hardest thing I ever had to give up–and I’ve given up several.  Why?  The pull was so great (its addictive powers) and I’d reinforced that action 40 times, over many years, throughout the day and night.

So, no one who’s never smoked should be judgmental about those who do. Now, how about you? Did you quit? How’d you do it? Were you an occasional smoker or two+ pack-a-day fiend (like me)? Do you still miss it sometimes? 

About admin

A lifetime teacher and realtor who's now a published writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor is a humorist first, ever aware of the thread that connects us all. Her works have appeared in the WSJ, Providence Journal, and CNN and NY Times-acclaimed medical blog,, to name a few. All material on this blog is exclusive property of the author and cannot be reproduced without this author's express written consent.
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