Like an idiot, I started cigarette smoking at 15.
Considering the havoc that little habit went on to wreak on both my respiratory tract and financial assets, it would be tempting to say it was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, but in reality, it’s probably just up there with the other remarkably stupid things I managed to accomplish later in life, including (but not limited to): smashing my right kneecap in half by running into a wall, dating touring musicians, moving in with my brother Paul, and driving a friend’s Saab into an Alaskan corner store. (The Saab was fine.)
Nonetheless, picking up smoking was a terribly dumb thing to do, and something I regretted for a long, long time afterwards. (Those 14 winters were especially absurd.)
Looking back, I identify 2 main culprits.
1) A desire to break out of goodie two-shoesdom ASAP.
2) A tall and mysterious boy, 2 grades older, who did all my math homework whilst tantalizingly chain-smoking non-filter Export A Full Flavour cigarettes. (Export A “green,” for those regrettably in the know.)
While I still can’t add, I finally quit smoking for good 16 months and 5 days ago. My mother, when I called her to share the good news, was equal parts proud and irate. I had never told her I smoked.
Whether it’s huffing gas, overdoing it in the booze-drinking department, or using OxyContin wayyy off-label, the NFB has a pretty solid track record on informing us of the perils that lie in the lap of addiction.
It is thus unsurprising that the NFB dedicated 2 films to the evils of tobacco smoking, an activity still enjoyed by almost 1 in 5 Canadians. (The latest statistics, from 2010, show that 17% of Canadians age 12 and up smoke.)
Ashes of Doom
The first is a super short 1970 film titled Ashes of Doom. Under 2 minutes long, the film opens on some spooky organ music à la Addams Family. In a posh bedroom/boudoir, a tormented-looking woman in raccoon makeup and a white frilly scoop-neck nightie is chain smoking as a thunderstorm rages outside. (I mean, poor woman. There were no iPads back then.)
At the strike of midnight, a vampire appears at the window. Saying much more about what happens next would ruin the plot, but let’s just say a) Mister Vampire is in for a nasty surprise and b) the Department of National Health should really get back into making campy vampire videos.
The second film is Mouseology, an odd little animation film we just added to NFB.ca. Hailing from the mid-90s, it draws a parallel between lab mice and the brains of smokers.
Having established that smoking is a form of programming, it goes on to demonstrate that to quit, one must fully deprogram one’s self, which really isn’t a piece of cake (unless it is, in which case you’re really just compensating.)
Despite certain anatomical cartoons I feel I could have done without (those sausage lungs were horrid), the film is an eerily good illustration of a recent quitter’s thought process. The mouse in the main protagonist’s head is a truly relentless maniac. “Just one,” he whispers, suave. “Just a puff!”
But fret not, Mouseology offers a cure. To quit one must:
- throw away the cigarettes
- ignore “the mouse” (The Buddhists call this ceaseless chattering of the mind “monkey brain.” Same difference.)
- learn to say no forever
Like it or not, that seems the only way.
Aside from never starting, of course.