I became a smoker in 2015, a month after a breakup with a long-term girlfriend, because an editor I admired told me it would be a good way to take a "deep breath." I was at a point in my life where I didn't know what was happening the next day and didn't really care. Since everything felt temporary, I thought smoking would be temporary, too.
Two years on, I've told myself I would stop more times than I can remember, because I don't want to die. (I've even thrown whole packs out in anger and then taken them out of the garbage an hour later.) A few weeks ago, I got a bad cold and didn't smoke for nearly five days. I felt healthier while sick and decided I'd give the whole not-smoking thing a real try soon. The internet—Reddit, WebMD, quitting forums—told me what to expect: headaches, coughs, irritability, fatigue. Basically, I'd be slightly ill and terrible to everybody I cared about for a little while, not an altogether new thing for me.
Many of these sites also featured tips from people who succeeded in quitting. Some were inspired by a family member's bout with cancer or witnessing their newborn pick a butt up off the ground. A good deal of them recommend some version of "vaping's a dope alternative." Others' methods, though, were more varied and unique. For instance: Whenever you're fiending to smoke… eat a dog biscuit instead. Run around the block. Make a turkey and cigarette sandwich.
There's a lot of this kind of guidance on the world wide web. I didn't know where to start, so I chose the bottom. I picked what I believe are the five most absurd suggestions for quitting smoking on the internet and tried each out for a single day. By the end, I'd be physically, emotionally, and financially depleted.
Day 1: Write a $2,000 Check to a Terrible Institution, Hand It to a Friend, Have Him Mail It in if I Fail
I begin on a Thursday. One suggestion I found on Reddit was to write a $2,000 check to the Westboro Baptist Church and give it to a friend, who would send it to the organization should I succumb to my nicotine addiction, forever leaving me with the knowledge that I've supported a terrible cause.
Because I don't have checks, trustworthy friends, or a desire to give money to those fuckers even by accident, I ask my editor Brian if I can Venmo him $2,000 in the morning. If I fail by night's end, I tell him, he can transfer the payment to his account. (If you're thinking, That isn't how Venmo works, you're right. But more on that in a bit.) [Editor's note: I told you, dummy!]
I manage to last through the workday by sheer force of will, not really thinking of the looming $2,000 I could lose if I fuck this up and give in. After punching out, I meet up with my friends at a bar, an activity that usually involves chain-smoking cigarettes. I drink four beers. A beer or two more might lead me to light up without consequence, so I leave early.
I fall asleep at 11 PM, tipsy, having kept the $2,000. Or so I believe.
Day 2: Buy Ten Kilos of Tangerines, Peel One Whenever I Get the Urge to Smoke, and Eat It
On Friday morning, I wake up to an email from Bank of America saying my balance is negative $400. The charge successfully went through, and at 7 AM, I text my editor in a panic, kindly asking him to return my money. He does.
In the meantime, I do have enough cash to move on to the next advice: Buy ten kilos of tangerines and eat one whenever you're jonesing to light up.
If you're not sure (I wasn't sure), ten kilos of tangerines is about 22 pounds of tangerines. I buy 22 pounds of clementines instead, because tangerines appear to be out of season (by that, I mean, I see the clementines at the grocery store first). The idea here is they're supposed to "keep [my] hands busy" and give "a fresh taste in [my] mouth [I'd] not want to ruin with smoke." Plus, this advice giver says tangerines "have basically no calories" (40 or so per fruit)—and clementines have even fewer (35 or so per fruit). This means a cigarette pack's worth of clementines is roughly 700 calories, nearly one-third the recommended daily amount for a man.
I learn very quickly that clementines do not have the same effect as cigarettes and don't satisfy the same needs. There is no head rush. There is no social aspect to eating a clementine. They do not calm you down or wake you up. They don't go better with alcohol. There are other large differences as well: Clementines are much stickier than cigarettes. You do not have to peel cigarettes. And you don't have to go outdoors to eat citrus. I have difficulty with that last point. Part of what's great about smoking is getting to leave my desk periodically, and after just a few hours of swapping cigarettes for clementines, I get fidgety. I want to stand up, so I ask my co-worker and (former, for now) smoking buddy, Eve, if she wants to smoke a cigarette outside while I eat a clementine.
I'm so nervous, by 11 AM, I've had three clementines. By 4 PM, it's ten. By the evening, I'm vaguely ill. I have no desire for a cigarette, because I have no desire for anything. I'm on the verge of vomiting.
I've developed some sort of cough, too.
It's a colleague's last day, so I bring a bag of clementines to the bar where we're bidding farewell, peeling and eating them as everyone smokes outside and talks about the perils of digital media. By 10 PM, I'm ready to depart and never look at another clementine.
I pass out, slightly drunk again, my belly full of clementines. I have eaten approximately 20 throughout the day. The bank has still not processed my $2,000.
Day 3: Carry Around a Ziploc Bag of Cigarette Butts and Occasionally Smell the Contents
It's Saturday, and I'm broke. I accept that I won't get my $2,000 back until Monday. [Editor's note: I told you, dummy!]
Since I'm not smoking (and cannot produce any new butts of my own), I take the ashtray in my living room and dump the contents into a bag. The stock is plentiful, and most of the butts are probably weeks old. The theory behind this method is that the sight and stench of the bag will make me recognize what I've been putting into my body for the past two years. But it's hard to comprehend the association. While I'd prefer not to smell cigarette butts and ash, much like the graphic pictures on packs in Europe, it's easy to ignore the relationship between the aspects of my dependency and all the problems it'll cause me in the distant future, when—or if—I reach age 60.
The day goes by relatively quickly, and before I know it, it's 5 PM, and I haven't eaten. I get hungry, and the one thing that can always quell my hunger is a cigarette. I'm feeling irritable, and the one thing that could make me feel better is a cigarette. This the most depressed and annoyed and antsy I've been in days, and I want to slam my head against the wall.
I eat and start to feel generally OK again. I'm cracking my knuckles a bunch, and I've touched my beard so many times I'm shocked pimples haven't formed yet.
At night, I pop into a birthday party and talk to a person who says he hasn't had a cigarette in 22 days, after smoking for a decade. I'm less irritable and newly invigorated. I'm in the mood to brag, too. I take my Ziploc bag out of my pocket, and he looks at me as though I've produced a severed limb.
I slam a shot, figuring it'll make me hungover enough the next morning that I won't want to get up until the late afternoon, so I'll be able to get through half the day without having to put in much effort.
That's what I do.
Day 4: Pretend a Golf Pencil Is a Cigarette
It turns out the small pencils you use to keep score in golf are remarkably hard to find if you aren't on a golf course or in an IKEA. I remedy this by snapping a normal-size pencil in half. The Redditor who gave this shit advice "tapped" the golf pencil as if "flicking ash off it" and "sometimes even stuck it in [his] mouth." The idea is to mimic the motion and routine of smoking—holding the pencil between your fingers, bringing it to your lips—but really all it does is make me look like an asshole on the verge of some sort of creative epiphany. I'm immediately self-conscious of being in public, more so than most days.
Today is the easiest day, though, because I don't step outside until 4 PM. When I do, I munch on the pencil on the subway platform. For the most part, I forget it exists. I'm slightly terrified of ingesting lead, but I'm not positive pencils even have lead any more. (Or if they ever had lead).
Back home, I cook dinner and watch the new episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. As smokeless day four draws to a close, I begin to believe I can stop smoking. This might be taking. These dumbass methods might be working.
I misplace the fake golf pencil before I shut my eyes.
Day 5: Drink Tobacco-Infused Water
It's Monday, my last day, and time for the advice I've been dreading most: drinking tobacco water. I like water, and I like cigarettes. But together? The notion of downing a glass of the stuff makes me feel queasier than eating 20 clementines, and that's the point: I'm supposed to throw up and never want to smoke again.
Anticipating this, I go to do the deed in a park close by my office. I pour the tobacco from a cigarette into a coffee cup filled with seltzer (I prefer the bubbles). I stare at the beverage, damp sprinkles of one of the most profitable crops in the history of the world, and slowly chug. I get half of it down before dumping the rest. I spend a solid couple minutes spitting afterward.
For the remainder of the day, I'm convinced I've unintentionally inflicted myself with whatever condition comes from eating tobacco. But I'm alright. I haven't smoked in five days.
The next morning, six days smoke-free, I start to think about my future. Will it involve cigarettes? I've spent the last week tricking myself into not lighting up, and while I wouldn't choose to chug tobacco seltzer or peel and eat so many clementines again, I didn't do anything that definitively kicked my habit or that I would consider resorting to long term. But they certainly kept me busy. I'm currently playing with a bottle cap. I guess it's working, too.
I think that if you want to stop smoking, the first step is to decide to stop smoking. What helps with that—and what these methods are designed to do—is to take your mind off that decision.
If you want to breathe deeply, "smoke" a broken pencil. Sniff a bag of butts. Eat a million baby oranges. Crush a bottle cap in your bare hands.
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