source: | 2000 Games, Devotions, Themes, Ideas and more for Youth Work
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Overview: Short stories – stories for children and teens

Subject: Smoking


In a flashback a former smoker tells us how he began to smoke cigarettes and why he has given up.

I have smoked before

I don’t really remember anymore exactly when I lit a cigarette for the first time. I must have been about 15 or 16 at the time. Nowadays you could really call that a „late starter“. Just a little while ago I saw two boys smoking on the street. They couldn’t have been more than 12 and how they were showing off.

In a newspaper I read that, according to statistics, only the smallest minority of people start to smoke when they are older than 21 if they have never smoked before. Therefore the most dangerous years to start getting used to smoking are the teenage years.

Well, what was it like for me? When did I start smoking? Like I said, I cannot remember the exact opportunity for me to smoke the first real cigarette. I had been pretending to smoke with salt sticks or chewing gum or chocolate cigarettes from the kiosk for a long time before. The best time was in the cold months when I could see my breath. I would coolly blow out as if I were really smoking. To put it better: it was almost like being an “adult”.

From then on it did not take long before I really placed the first cigarette in my mouth. I think it was after school at the bus stop. My friends and I had regularly smoked one (or two) fags there. We would smoke as long as it took for the bus to arrive. At some time, probably in class 8 or 9, I suddenly belonged to one of the “bigger ones” and then smoked like one too. That was what it was like in those days. Suddenly I was in a gang of smokers as if a magnet he pulled me in. I somehow felt safe in the group because I was accepted as a smoker. Apart from that, the “little ones”, the younger school children who had formed their little groups a few meters further away, should see that I was a “big one” now. The distinguishing mark for this was indisputably the cigarette in the hand.

It was nothing more than a ritual: a ritual which became an addiction at some point. We were hardly out of school and we would be fishing around in our pockets for the cigarettes and lighter. „Man, lost my lighter yet again! Doesn’t matter, someone will have one.” Or even worse: „Damn! I haven’t got anymore tabs; hopefully I can scrounge some off someone.” I knew who to turn to on such occasions. Some people were always well prepared with a fresh pack of tabs. We usually bought our cigarettes from the vending machine. It used to hang over the bakers opposite the bus stop. We probably made the operators of that vending machine rich at the time. Nowadays I ask myself if he did that on purpose – setting up a vending machine right opposite a school – because he knew that school kids were his best customers. It isn’t so easy nowadays to come across cigarettes. You now need a card with a proof of ID. Although I am sure that we would have solved that problem as well in those days.

In any case we could not imagine life without the daily ritual of the cigarette and chat between the end of school and before the bus came. No cigarettes after school? That would have been just about as uncomfortable as if I were to be standing there in ugly clothes.

As time went by, it no longer stopped at the cool cigarette after school. All of a sudden I started to smoke at other opportunities e.g. walking around with friends in the afternoon, when we went to play billiards or when we were just hanging around the market place. Obviously at this point I hadn’t started to smoke at home (yet). My parents did not find out for a long time that I smoked. The smell alone could not give me away because my mother smoked at home herself. That was very practical because I did not have to think up any major operations to try and hide the smell. If the fact did come out that I smoked I wasn’t worried. My mother would understand because she smoked too. She couldn’t exactly forbid me to do something which she does herself, I thought. Some of my friends had it more difficult. They really had to be careful when they went home so that they were not found out.

I do admit that I did not have a totally clear conscience with the whole smoking thing. I did not pay attention to the damage to my health which smoking inevitably did. My worry was the money. I only had my pocket money after all and almost all of that went on cigarettes. I could not scrounge all of the time. I was usually skint before the end of the month. Smoking is an expensive addiction! It was probably hundreds, if not thousands, of Euros which I literally blew into the wind. I really could have done with the money as I took my driving examination at 18. I can still remember how I had to take an annoying holiday job in a supermarket to try and finance the driving lessons. My parents and my grandmother had made a deal that they would cover half of the costs of the driving licence if I paid the other half. I know that some friends of mine had to pay all of the costs. You really start to consider if you really need to buy a pack of cigarettes every day but I couldn’t keep my hands off them. I had already started to smoke when I was alone and not just when I was with my friends. At home I had also started to secretly smoke on the balcony. Although there wasn’t anyone there who I had to act cool in front of. I simply needed the stuff. I was addicted to tobacco. In winter I would convince myself that the cigarettes would keep me warm. This wasn’t true of course but it was simply a good feeling to be smoking.

I know one thing only too well now when I look back at my smoking existence: Smoking is expensive, makes no sense and is a waste. To put it bluntly: I wasted money and breathed in dirt. O.K, I did feel more grown up and I did enjoy smoking because of that at first but I also feel good when I play football or when I am with my girlfriend and I don’t need nicotine for that.

I remember a good friend of mine, Tim. Tim was really cool with his jokes and his chaotic stories he was always telling. He had a talent in making people laugh. This lad was really the only one in our gang who didn’t smoke! I can remember that clearly. Nowadays I can only say: „Respect, Tim!” especially because his parents were chain smokers. They used to sit at home the whole time smoking one after the other. Well, maybe that had annoyed him so much that he didn’t do it that as well. Tim was simply cool. He didn’t need any cigarettes to prove anything to us.

At some point smoking had started to annoy me somewhat. I suddenly realised that my clothes stank and that my teeth had become a horrible yellow colour. I somehow felt really dirty. Above all, the fact that I constantly had to stick a cigarette in my mouth although I wasn’t even in the mood, got really on my nerves. Yes well, that’s called addiction, isn’t it? I was actually addicted for many years! I was addicted to nicotine and probably to the ritual as well: Light - draw – blow out – flick away. For a long time I could not admit to myself that I was addicted to cigarettes. „Me, addicted? No! I only smoke a little bit...and I could easily give up at any time.”

Thankfully I have finally managed to get away from the cigarettes now. I am 28 now. I actually wanted to give up a lot earlier but it didn’t seem to work. At some point you stand in a book store flicking through books like „I will become a non-smoker now“. This is how I experienced it. It was embarrassing and I was ashamed of myself for it. The thing I get most angry about is the fact that I couldn’t just give up overnight like some people. OK, but I have heard that there are very few people who claim to have succeeded. For most people it does not go so smoothly. Most need several attempts before they manage. So many that I could not even begin to count them.

It was definitely a downright shock therapy which helped me give up smoking 6 months ago. My doctor said to me that my permanent coughing is not the result of a cold but more likely to be from smoking. As he looked at my lungs he said that they did not look very good. Then he asked me if I had never heard that there is an increased risk of lung cancer among smokers. It flashed like lightning through my brain: “Damn! I am really killing myself with the smoking. I really have to give up and that’s that.” I have asked my girlfriend to keep me fully under control. If I should ever buy a pack of cigarettes again she should take them off me and throw them away. Thankfully I haven’t bought another pack since that visit to the doctor. The smoking chapter is closed for me. Forever! And the best thing is that I don’t miss them at all. Quite the opposite: I feel a lot freer as a non-smoker because I do not keep having to worry how many cigarettes I have and when I will have to buy a new pack. Apart from that, I save a lot of money, which I can do with to take my girlfriend to the cinema for example. My health also seems to be recovering. My coughing is almost gone and my teeth are becoming whiter again. That really all came from smoking.

When I see people smoking today I always feel strong and think to myself: „I managed it. It certainly wasn’t easy to give it but it was worth it – because I am a non-smoker now!”

Suggestions for questions for an introduction to a discussion:

  • What leads children and young people to smoke?
  • Why do we want to be grown up? Why do people want to be cool?
  • What do you think?
  • Why do you smoke?
  • Could you give up? Have you tried?
  • Who is cooler (stronger inside): the one who smokes or the one who doesn’t smoke?

Learning goals:

  • Recognition that the path to smoking is often not determined by ourselves but by friends and the fear of not being seen as cool.
  • What starts off small can become an obsession and can become an addiction even if most people don’t want to accept it.

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