Writer Gregor Hens doesn't smoke anymore, but he used to — a lot. And as he explains in his memoir, Nicotine, he still thinks about it every day.
He writes, "Every form of cigarette ad gives me a pang of longing, every scrunched-up, carelessly thrown away cigarette packet at a bus stop, every trod-on cigarette butt, every beautiful woman holding a cigarette between her fingers or just looking like she could be holding one."
Hens tells NPR's Kelly McEvers that he started writing the book after he quit smoking as a way to deal with withdrawal. He says, "I decided there would be two possible ways of doing it: Either to completely ignore my cigarettes and everything about cigarettes, or to confront it head-on. So I did, and basically chronicled my struggle."
On one of his earliest memories of smoking
I was very young. I have two older brothers. ... We went out at night to light fireworks for New Year's Eve. It's a German tradition. We went out there, it was a cold night, and there was only one lighter. And my brothers were fighting over this lighter and my mother gave me a cigarette to light the rockets with, to hold the glowing cigarette to the fuse and then the rocket will go off. And of course, you do this a couple of times and then the cigarette starts going out. So my mother said, "Well, you have to take a drag ... to keep it going." And I did and I had a coughing fit. The adults thought it was really funny. And that was my first taste.
And then after a while I looked forward to the cigarette more than to the fireworks. So when I was 7, 8, 9 years old, I was: "Oh, it's New Year's Eve. I'm gonna get another cigarette."
On the last time he smoked before he quit
The last cigarette I didn't really notice as a last cigarette. I didn't celebrate it, I didn't reserve it. I was out having dinner with my wife and her friend, and it was a beautiful summer evening and we were sitting outside in front of an Italian restaurant talking, drinking wine. And this friend of my wife's and I shared a pack of cigarettes, and then it was over.
And I walked back home with my wife and she said, "Oh, I wish I could have been part of that. I would have loved to share that pack with you." And she had been a heavy smoker herself earlier, and I didn't want that responsibility; I didn't want her to feel like she should be part of this sort of orgy of smoke. And so I decided, OK, you know what, this is it. I'm going to quit. I threw out all of the ash trays and lighters and cigarette packs and opened all the windows and that was it.
On seeing a hypnotist in order to keep from relapsing
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