I forgot my anniversary last year, and I couldn't have been more delighted.
We were four days into November when I walked past a calendar and noticed the big, black "1" at the beginning of the month. Another Nov. 1, the sixth since my last cigarette, had come and gone, and for the first time, I hadn't stopped to salute.
But overlooking the milestone means that I have achieved distance both from smoking and from thinking about smoking. Six years later, I seem to have stopped looking back. Just as smoking used to be second nature, so now is having quit.
That's the strongest inducement I can offer to fence-sitters, procrastinators and Alibi Ikes who are considering quitting. Not only do your lungs recover, but your attitude and life style do, too.
You will be free from nervous absorption with nagging details. (Where is a match? Don't I own a shirt without a burn-hole in the breast pocket? Do I have four quarters and one dime for the machine in the basement?)
You will be free from compulsively organizing your time around smoking. (Is the movie two hours and 20 minutes long? Then I'd better smoke two cigarettes before I go into the theater, because that's a long time to go without.)
Your hands and fingers will be free. (Amazing what you can do with a telephone, and how quickly, when you use all 10 fingers. Amazing how much easier, and safer, it is to drive a car.)
Your bank account will be freer. (The pack-a-day smoker doesn't think much about spending $1.10 each 24 hours to feed his habit. Hey, what's a dollar-ten? But do the multiplication: $1.10 a day is $401.50 a year. That's about 2 percent of the average American family's gross annual income. Those same 401 dollars could buy a new refrigerator, a video cassette recorder or a trip to California, every single year.)
Best of all, you will be free from the long looks and the lectures. No one will ever again shoot you a murderous glance in a restaurant. No one will ever again ask what makes you think you're immune from lung cancer, Mr. Smartypants. You won't be defensive anymore. You'll just be.
But I've just demonstrated one of the most unsettling aspects of the smoking issue. The very fact that I've quit, and quit for so long, seems to make me think I can preach to others.
I wouldn't presume to tell any living soul whether he should use cologne or not. I wouldn't presume to decide for someone else whether he should take the bus to work as opposed to thumbing a ride. What gives me the right to tell a smoker to knock off a habit that he has entered into of his own free will?
The answer is the effects of smoke on nonsmokers.
Smoking is not just a self-inflicted wound. Smoking literally envelops innocent people in a noxious fog. Smoking may damage the health of the primary smoker faster, and more devastatingly. But it also causes obvious harm to family members, roommates, taximates, anyone who spends even a few minutes around a burning cigarette.
That's why I strongly favor a national policy that bans smoking in all public places.
Yes, all. Restaurants. Offices. Student lounges. Airplanes. Even sidewalks.
Don't try to ban smoking entirely. That would meet with as much success as prohibition. Simply make smoking as inconvenient for the smoker as possible.
Tell him by law that if he wants to smoke in his own living room or his own car, all right. But tell him that he can't inflict his mushroom clouds on a passing pedestrian, a coworker, the guy on the next bar stool.
At the same time, let's demand that nonsmokers stop being so suffocatingly sanctimonious.
If you don't smoke, help someone who does. Don't flog him. Counsel him, encourage him, lead him gently by the elbow to the promised land. But if you lecture him, point fingers at him, raise voices, shake fists, you defeat our own purpose. You make it more likely that the smoker will raise his hackles (and his nicotine intake) in defiance of all who would run his life for him.
How can we clear the air of holier-than-thou? With disincentives, as the economists would say. Let's set up penalties for nonsmokers who badger too stridently.
For example, many homes and offices have established "cuss boxes" -- kitties into which family members or workers must drop a dime every time they utter a four-letter word.
Why not a High Horse Box?
Every time a nonsmoker mounts his H.H., he must part with a dime. At the end of the year, shoot the works on a new office coffee pot, a new video game, whatever. But help the smoker; don't condemn him. View his habit as a treatable addiction, not as leprosy. Help him see how routine not smoking can be; don't treat him like a sad puppy who doesn't know any better.
Before you know it, the poor guy may be forgetting his anniversary, too.