Monday, April 14, 2008



Last March 31, I celebrated the 5th year anniversary of my decision to quit smoking. That was after 29 years of happily burning my money and poisoning my lungs.

I used to tell the non-smokers who were constantly harping about the dangers of inhaling second hand smoke, that “If they had the right to live, then we, smokers, also had the right to die.” I also believed then in the saying that “Smokers don’t grow old….. They die young.” That was why I thought I’d live only up to 50, hence my email address.

I started smoking late. I was 22 and already working for about a year in Manila when I discovered the joys of smoking(?). Initially, I accepted offers of a stick or two when drinking during nights out with my officemates. This was also the time I started to drink beer. (My limit before was one bottle. As soon as I get to my second, I ended throwing up.) So, I learned to smoke and drink to be “in” and be a part of the social group I was in. Nicotene is addicting. Slowly, I began to like the taste of menthol cigarettes.

From the occasional free puffs, I started buying a few sticks (pa-tingi-tingi). Then, I began buying by the pack (20 sticks per pack), and much later I graduated into buying by the ream (10 packs per ream). When I quit in March 2003, I was already smoking 3 packs a day. If I slept six hours a day, that would mean I smoked 3 and 1/3 sticks per hour. I preferred menthol cigarettes – I started with Philip Morris, then later, I shifted to Hope, when the price of Philip became too expensive.

I couldn’t work without the cigarettes. If I had to stay up late working and I ran out of cigarettes, I would go out and look for a convenience store. I really thought my mind wouldn’t work if I couldn’t smoke. Davao City was a place I hated most before because of its strict enforcement of the smoking ban in public places. Takot lahat kay Mayor Duterte.

There were two brief periods when I was able to quit smoking. First was in 1980 when I studied at UP Diliman. I decided to lead a healthy lifestyle. I stayed at Ipil Dorm and every afternoon I jogged around the campus for an hour. It really felt good until the eve of the Comprehensive Exam. I was tense and felt I didn’t have enough time to read my notes. I bought a pack of cigarettes but promised myself that I’d smoke only that night and that I’d throw whatever was left after the exam. Of course that didn’t happen. Instead, I went back to my old ways.

The second was in 1987, when I was in-between jobs. The research office I was working with (Association of Catholic Universities of the Philippines) closed and while looking for another job, I enrolled in a gym. Hingal kabayo ako. I couldn’t complete the routine the first time I tried. So, I quit smoking and felt really good. But then, I got a job at the SGV Economics and Marketing Group and soon, I was back to my old self, smoking, heavily. We could still smoke in our work station way back then.

There was a time in the early 90s when my smoker’s cough wouldn’t go away. I also felt some chest pains. So I went to the Philippine Heart Center for a check up. Luckily (or so I thought) the doctor who examined me was a smoker. But he said he felt like he was still in High School because he had to hide while smoking. Doctors at the Heart Center were not supposed to be seen smoking. So, he did not advise me to quit but to just moderate my greed (for cigarettes). (konsentidor!) Of course, that didn’t happen. So I went my merry way smoking, more so when I was working. My work station was a smoking area. It was more like a gas chamber.

I was still a heavy smoker when I climbed Mt. Mayon in 1995. Ang yabang ko pa, I was smoking when we started the gradual ascent. But I ended up practically crawling. I had the same experience when I joined my staff in documenting government- owned lands in the mountains of Pasacao in Camarines Sur. Hingal kabayo ulit.

Then the SARS scare came in 2002, 2003. People became paranoid, Just a slight cough and you’ll get dagger looks, well, not really…. not angry look but fear! Afraid that you had SARS and they’d be contaminated. That was what I wanted to avoid. I was facilitating a workshop and I had this cough. So I decided that I won’t smoke during the duration of the workshop (two days). I also drank lukewarm water to clear any irritation on my throat. Fortunately, I succeeded! I didn’t have fits of coughing while doing facilitation work. When the activity ended, I thought that if I was able to do it for two days, and I was able to work and it felt good, then I might as well stop smoking for good.

On the night of March 31, 2003, I made the decision to quit. I put a scotch tape on my cigarette case which contained the unfinished pack of cigarettes. I still keep this until now. I had some withdrawal symptoms. For more than a month, I had coughs. I had to take expectorant to be able to expel the nicotine from my lungs. I also experienced some shortness of breath and yawning gave such a relief. It, however, seemed like I was always sleepy. Other than these initial inconveniences, I felt alright. I gained appetite, and gained weight (ibang issue yata iyong paglaki ng tiyan). I never felt any urge to go back to smoking. Even when I’m in front of smokers while drinking, I’m not tempted to take even a few puffs. I have long surpassed the 3 months and 7 months that I previously quit.

Now, it’s been five years. Once you’ve made a firm decision to quit, the rest would be easy. Those who are having difficulty quitting haven’t really made up their mind.


Kalar said...

See Please Here

Daet Parochial School Class 67 said...

Hi Toti,

Cool smoky past! Smoked Phillips for 19 years. I quit twice..once via a Chinese medicine when I was with The World Bank…no success! Too much pressure. Then, I decided to quit one day when I was working with The International Labour Organization in Geneva and Bangladesh. It took only one day….tapos. Partly kids and partly as a challenge. I guess in the end, discipline lang yan. Pero, tumaba naman ako thereafter…. He, he, he. Maybe it’s better to smoke again….. Lots of huggggssssss….

Ed Canela

Sor Victorina de la Providencia, Mother Superior of Daet Parochial School

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