Saturday, May 28, 2011


Some of my friends are going completely ballistic.

The MetroManila Development Authority's campaign to completely eradicate all these nicotine junkies from the city has created havoc.  Soon absolutely no one is allowed to smoke in main and secondary streets in the entire Metropolis.  We are not talking just Manila here but all the cities covered by the office ... going as far as, uh, Bulacan?

So how is that? 

You cannot smoke inside restaurants. You cannot smoke inside malls. You cannot smoke in government buildings. You cannot smoke in airports. You cannot smoke in offices and schools. If you are one of those who find ultimate pleasure sucking in smoke down your throat and into your lungs .... you have to step out of wherever you are for your nicotine shot, right? As if that is not hassle enough.

And now you cannot smoke in public places in Manila. (Insert canned laughter here.)

I stopped smoking a little over three years ago.  

I started the habit when I was about sixteen years old.  I began with a stick of Marlboro Red or two ... until that eventually progressed into Marlboro Green, then Pall Mall ... then eventually Philip Morris.  By the time I hit fifty, I was smoking about a pack and a half to two packs a day.  I used to buy cigarettes by the piece. Then I bought them by the pack.  Eventually, out of an attempt to save money, I bought them by the carton.

I justified my nicotine addiction to my stressful occupation and pre-occupations. I worked in media.  My life was full of deadlines and assholes.  I needed to ... uhm, relax. Puff ... puff.

Plus the fact that it looked good puffing a cigarette while drinking coffee.  It looked good blowing smoke while clinging onto a glass of Gin and Vodka tonic at a bar, making goo-goo eyes and doing Vogue poses in order to look attractive.  The cigarette dangling from my nicotine stained fingers was a security blanket: the act of sucking in the smoke then blowing it out with pursed lips or through my nose was something to do.  

I smoked inside my car. I smoked inside my office. I smoked in my bedroom. I smelled of smoke from the moment I wake up (drink your mug of coffee, read the headline of the Inquirer then see what Conrad de Quiros has to say, while lighting my first of many cigarettes throughout the day)until the final credits of my day started scrolling down my tired mind (one finally fag to end the adventure of the past day).  I smelled of smoke ... and I did not notice it. And I did not give a damn.

I did not give a damn but my mother did.  Shall I tell you of the times she would cut out clippings from newspapers and magazines showing the perils of smoking? Or she would cut out pictures of lungs infested with cancer attributed to smoking ... or asking me to spell emphysema in a single breath?  I would come home ... and dear Mama would have something tacked on my cork board, usually an article about sure-death from a habit that I should not have even started.

Ah, well. But that's the way of all mothers. 

Then there is this worldwide anti-smoking campaign that made any smoker's life regress from unfair to downright miserable.  There was this big deal about second hand smoke (or how your health can be jeopardized because you are in the same room as a nicotine junkie). And soon enough, the smoking section of restaurants, airports including airplanes became extinct.  Even taking a relatively short plane ride --- say, Manila to Bangkok --- was a nerve wrecking experience for a smoker who anticipates claustrophobia mixed with the inability to light a joint.

But perhaps my worst experience was having to go outside for my nicotine break at the height of winter. I had to step outside the balcony of my hotel room in Barcelona, freezing my ass off at nine in the evening just to take a smoke. Worse, I was crammed inside a very small smoking lounge in the airport with about twenty other fellow junkies trying to get my fill.

Ironically, it is not all these that made me kick the habit.  It was not a spur of the moment decision either.

To begin with, whether one realizes it or not, smoking is a very expensive diversion to ruin one's health. At P35.00 to P40.00 per pack of my favorite menthol cigarette, I figured out that I spent approximately P53.00 to P70.00 per day just to keep my mouth occupied and smelling like the sewers.  That total to something like P490.00 a week or P1960 a month. I figured out that I will not only be saving close to two grand per month ... but more so, sparing myself of medical bills if and when ...

Worse was the fact that I was getting bad bouts of colds almost every month as well.  Together with that came coughing spells that almost had me cringing on the floor gasping for air.  I found myself using my health card all too often, diagnosed as having a variety of upper respiratory infections which include pharyngitis ... and eventually developing what my doctor called bronchial asthma.  OK, that did it.

One day, while at work filming inside a hospital, I ran out of cigarettes.

It was such a tedious and needless exercise to go all the way to the parking lot of that medical institution just to take a puff of my cigarette.  Worse, it was already exasperating to go on panic mode when it slips my mind to replenish my stock of cigarettes.  So I decided to quit.  Just like that.  I told one of my assistants, "I think I will stop smoking." Yes, just like that. And I did.  And I have not smoked a cigarette ... or even taken a puff for more than three years. 

I feel good about this.

I also realized that it is much harder thinking of how difficult it is to stop smoking than just ending the addiction all together.  God knows I tried everything before, including those silly nicotine patches that promised a slow but effective weaning process.  But nothing beats good old cold turkey.  Yes, there will be that craving ... yet all it takes is to condition your mind to think of something else. Maybe gulp a glass of water. Or shove chewing gum on your oral cavity. But I think all that is overrated drama.

It is not a matter of having a steel will or a determination to swim the English Channel.  Quitting a habit ... is making a decision to do it ... and just doing it. Like losing weight. Or dumping a stupid lover. Or reinventing your existence.

But indeed, there are repercussions.  You gain weight not because you have re-channeled your oral fixation.  You start eating with such gusto because, as my doctor described so vividly, the nicotine coating on your tongue wears off and suddenly your taste buds are fully operational again.  You add pounds because food never tasted so good again.  

Perhaps the worst adverse reaction is that after a while you cannot stand the smell of cigarette smoke.  You are disgusted with the smell of the breath of smokers ... or the way smoke clings onto the upholstery, the curtains and clothes (whether yours or somebody else's).  You get irritated by the argument whether you should stay inside a restaurant or choosing to dine al fresco because your companion happens to be a smoker.  And if you choose to dine indoors, you get so irritated when your dinner mate excuses himself like five times in a span of one hour to take a step outside and puff a cigarette.

When you begin to feel so much better ... and you regain a voice that can match that of Enrico Caruso the next time you go to a Videoke showdown, you ask yourself whatever made you stick to that habit for years on end ... and why it took so long for you to realize that you are doing the best thing for yourself by raising the chances for a longer life.

Maybe worse than worst is that you start telling all your smoker friends to quit, giving an inspiring example of your life and transformation. And boring them to death in the process.  I realize that I have become my mother.

Yes, some of my friends are going crazy cursing the MMDA for their new law to put smokers into the category of extinction.  But honestly --- I am glad.  No, I am happy.  To quit smoking is an individual decision.  But it helps that the government is helping others help themselves in taking that all too overrated leap to realize that life can be made a little bit better with just a little less smoke.


  1. a dear friend who just died last friday after a 5 month bout with pancreatic cancer, told me on monday night, that he blames ONLY his smoking, for what happened to him. He also wishes and told his loved ones to kick the habit NOW, a sort of a final crusade for him. kudos, joey. im sharing this, OK.

  2. For me it was not about the addictive nicotine, really. It was more of the "social cues." Waking up in the morning was a cue to smoke. Being full after a meal was a cue to smoke. Sleepiness/sleeplessness was cue to smoke. Drinking in a party was a cue to smoke. Taking a dump was a cue to smoke. Stress was a cue to smoke. It was the cue that was hard to beat. It was an involuntary command from the brain to light up. I was so helpless to do anything about it. One day I realized this:

    "I doesn't get better."

    So I decided to quit. Congrats to all ex smokers! Congrats! I hope my mother realizes the same thing as we have realized. Thanks for the post.

  3. I quite smoking about 4 years ago, cold turkey. It was shockingly one of the easiest things I ever did in my life, and like you, I wondered why I waited so long to do it and yes, I gained a few pounds. But hey, chubby never felt so good!
    PS: Love your blog and I look forward to every one of your posts!

  4. Hi Jose,

    I'm a writer from Australia. I'll be in Manila as of July to research an article on gay culture in the Philippines, and I understand you've written extensively on swardspeak. Would you have any time free for a brief interview? If so, please contact me: doughendrie at gmail dot com.