My story is an all too familiar one, so I wanted to share it so that other newcomers don't run into the same issues that so many of us have. It all started with my body telling me that smoking cigarettes is bad. You'd think that with all the available information out there, I would have already known this fact, but hey... sometimes you have to learn the hard way. So after a couple weeks of hacking up tar-like gunk in the mornings, I decided that I needed to cut cigarettes out of my life completely. My first thought was, "I'll just stop. Easy as pie." but it turns out that it's hard to quit cold turkey. Not only was I missing the chemical component of cigarettes, but also the varied social benefits of smoking. However, I was able to initially limit my intake to about 4 cigarettes per day, and the progress motivated me even more to quit. I had heard of vaping, but it the industry was in its infancy and I wasn't sure if it was for me. Like many, my mind would drift back toward what was comfortable and dependable. Smoking cigarettes has an aura around it, or a certain mystique and it felt like it would be impossible to replicate it. However, every time I would light up, I would shake my head in disgust as I inhaled that nauseating smoke. Although I disliked the taste and smell, smoking cigarettes still struck a chord deep within me. The feeling you get while smoking is what kept me coming back for more. It's difficult to explain to a non-smoker exactly what this feeling is because it's multi-faceted. Not to mention that from their point of view, a smoker is an irrational person to begin with, so the task of explaining seems daunting. So when a smoker starts to recite their rationale behind their smoking habit to a non-smoker, their voices immediately make the sound that Charlie Brown's teacher makes when she speaks. Even now, as I am about to try to explain via text, I can see the non-smoker's vision start to blur and their attention-span beginning to thin out. If you are, or were, a smoker then you already have an intimate knowledge of what I'm about to describe. So what keeps a cigarette smoker coming back? Contrary to what some may think, smokers are actually literate! We do see the studies, we have heard about the harmful side-effects, and we even experience them first hand! "Then WHY?" shouts the non-smoker in disbelief, "Why do you continue to smoke those awful things? You smell bad, your teeth are yellowing, your breathing is labored and you spend a crazy amount of money doing it!" Every smoker has their favorite smoke of the day... there's the "wake-up cig" and the "post-coitus smoke" and the "after dinner mint" and of course the "midnight special". Although each smoking occasion has it's own unique qualities, what they do share in common is what brought me the corner store time and time again. Smoking a cigarette provides the user with a sense of calm that I will now attempt to describe. It is a time to be alone, to watch and listen instead of talk... it's a break from reality as your eyes close during that first inhale, and on the exhale you can feel a weight being lifted from your shoulders. It's a sense of independence, a nod to bearers of the counter-culture. At the same, time, it brings camaraderie and sense of belonging. It exudes a confidence that you'll live forever, that age is a state of mind and that you'll be forever young. Smoking a cigarette shrugs off authority and means that you cannot be tamed. New ideas spring from the depth of your mind, it's a moment to sort out the day and to prioritize your plans. In fact, the whole ritual of smoking is calming. Just like any other ritualistic act, the subject knows what to do and what to expect. These reassuring events can make even the most stressed person realize that one plus one still equals two. No matter what craziness is going on in the periphery, a cigarette will ground the smoker and reassure him/her that they still are in control of something. On a physical level, your mood is lifted because nicotine increases the levels of dopamine, glutamate and endorphins in the brain. So imagine the combination of taking a break from work, physically leaving the work environment and then boosting your "happy levels" via the introduction of chemicals. In a way, it allows the smoker to physically and mentally escape from any exhausting or foreboding situation. Is it swimsuit season and you're about to walk by a Starbucks? Just light one up, and you'll immediately forget about the need for food or drink, not to mention the boost in mental acuity. Often a cigarette can be the perfect counter to a bout with the mundane. Smokers know the secret to alleviating boredom, and a cigarette is always a trusted resource for avoiding/preparing for the unpleasant things in life. Need to break some bad news to your parents? Going into the bosses office to ask for a raise? All you need is: enough space to pace back and forth, an empty room where no one will hear you talking to yourself, and a trusty cigarette between your fingers. Or if it's just one of those days for some deep reflection, take a seat on a bench and light one up. The smoke slowly and methodically curls up from the dull, red ember... couple that image with the racing internal dialogue playing out in your mind, and you've joined two opposites that create an interesting dichotomy. In the end, the union of fast-pace and slow-motion ends in a draw, and a sort of artificial homeostasis is realized. Sure, balance in one's life can be achieved in multiple ways... but how many methods promise you more time spent outdoors? Knowledge of my surroundings and situational awareness seemed to grow by leaps and bounds as my smoking continued. Wherever I worked, I was the one in the office that could be counted on to tell you the name of every tree in the parking lot. Why? You try looking at the same group of trees a three times a day for over a year, and I bet you'll learn more about them too. No, I'm not some type of "tree scientist" bro... I just have Google on my phone and I notice the landscaping around the building a lot more than my non-smoking co-workers. Smoking is the olive branch of any awkward social interaction. It's hard to describe the joy that is felt when you announce that you're going out for a smoke, and that one stranger you were hoping to talk to at some point says "Hey, I'll join you." Sharing a smoke break is a sure-fire way to guarantee that progress will be made when attempting to create any type of bond with someone. When you share an interest, it creates talking points... when you share the desire to exhibit symbolic acts of rebellion (like smoking), an automatic kinship is formed. After writing this, I still feel like a non-smoker would be unable to relate. Perhaps there is just something different physiologically about those who choose to smoke, and those who don't. As I said before, the smoker is well aware of the harmful effects of smoking, yet still chooses to do it. I suppose what it comes down to is an insistence that one learns on their own, which often means learning the hard way. Whichever theory you choose regarding why smokers smoke, there is a reliable constant in the scenario... the smoker will quit, but only once a suitable alternative is available. Although it seems to be an innate quality of the smoker to be proud of their non-conformity, there is a part of every human being that wants to belong. We want to be social and we want to be accepted, no matter how much we say we don't care. Smokers are aware that they are treated as an outcast. Being forced into a small, remote area where no one else can be affected by our deplorable acts will make anyone realize that they don't quite belong anymore. At some point, every smoker begins to weigh the pros and cons of smoking. Generally, the cons far outweigh the pros and most start to look for ways to quit. However, there are some who hold the benefits of smoking in such high regard, that they forego admitting to themselves that they are being pushed to fringe of society. Most are self-aware however, and those are the ones who want to hold onto a little of both acceptance and independence. So they begin to seek an alternative that can provide a person with the list of quirky benefits described above. Feelings that many non-smokers have never experienced. When vaping came along, it changed the game... for good. Many thought to themselves: no longer must I suffer the negatives of cigarettes in order to obtain the benefits. I know that for me, the first time I tried hitting a vape, my eyes were opened to an alternative that is not only more socially acceptable, but also more desirable on a personal level than cigarettes. There was no turning back now... or so I thought.