A Year without Tobacco: 6-Months In

A. MIller
Month 1:

I’m completely off tobacco. I just up and walked away. I’m kind of impressed with how little physical dependence I had on my pipe. Being a nearly-every-day smoker and usually more than one bowl per day, I’m impressed by this. I’ve read that, due to not-inhaling, there is a significant enough delay between first puff and nicotine getting in to my system that my mind never associates the two. It’s true—at least for me.

I’m experiencing no noticeable physical withdrawal affects at all.

So far this feels like no big deal. I mean, I miss my routine. I miss the complexity of flavor. I miss being able to feast on a good bowl between meals. But nothing terrible.

Month 2:

I don’t know what happened last month, but the reality that it’s been over 30 days since I last partook of anything resembling tobacco is heartbreaking. I still feel nothing physically, but emotionally I’m a walking disaster. I closed my pipe and tobacco cabinet completely. Normally these doors are never closed, however, my pipes were gathering noticeable dust and it was time to protect them. I still haven’t cleaned them. It was time for a good deep cleansing, but I couldn’t put myself through holding each and every one and being struck with so many memories as I clean the funk out.

There are four unopened 8oz tins that arrived shortly after I started this process just sitting atop my pipe rack staring down at me. Two of my favorite blends and two more I’ve never had before and I just can’t even bare knowing they’re there.

Back Story:
Fresh out of college I worked for the same company for ten years. When I left I made the mistake of not carrying over my life insurance which would have been easy as Drew Estate’s Meat Pie. I just failed.

My next job provided insurance and the questionnaire stopped worrying at finding out my tobacco use was limited to a pipe. They gave me an absurd amount of insurance for next to nothing. But then about 18 months in, we changed benefits providers and I had to re-apply for insurance. Realizing I was in an industry where the average tenure is less than 2 years at any given company, I knew it was time to buy enough insurance outside of my employer to not have to worry about my wife and four kids should I suddenly…. I don’t know… play Death in a round of dueling banjos and lose.

Crazier things have happened (hell, I once dueled banjos without a pipe in my mouth—can you even imagine?)…

So I went to purchase health insurance elsewhere. Turns out I am the spitting image of health in every way (well almost every way. I’m two pounds off of “every way”). But I use tobacco. And the difference between $360/mo and $60/mo for life insurance is pretty astounding. Facing the music was awful, but obvious. It was time to go a year without tobacco and get the lower rate.

Month 3:
I cant take it anymore. I don’t miss the nicotine, I miss the routine. I’ve long said I’d love to smoke without nicotine as I hate the way it makes me feel. I read some things about how raspberry leaves have long been a common substitute for tobacco. I recall that the words I was asked by the insurance provider were, "Have you used any tobacco products in the last 12 months." Very specific to one substance. By the grace of God I have a large raspberry plant in my backyard, and today I dried out a whole bowl full of leaves and packed them in a pipe.

I have smoke. I have SOMETHING. Anything at all really—thank goodness. And then lo and behold, I feel better after raspberry leaves than I do after nicotine. No twitchiness, no tanking of blood-sugar… this isn’t actually terrible. Although it does sort of taste like dirt.

Later the same day and a second bowl in—okay this is kind of disappointing. I don’t know that I can do this complete lack of flavor for forever.

Month 4:
I’m doing pretty well. Substituting in a bowl of raspberry leaves whenever the urge gets too strong, this is about once each week. I miss the complexity of my tobacco. I’ve often likened smoking aromatics to drinking soda. It’s simple, sweet, and difficult to not like. Then non-aromatics are like fine whiskey, with incredible depth and complexity of flavors. To carry on that analogy, raspberry leaves are like drinking four teaspoons of top soil mixed in with tap water from Los Angeles.

I definitely miss nicotine. I also miss professionally blended deliciousness.

But I don’t think about it hardly ever anymore. Then today on the way home from school I had a conversation with my daughter that went like this:

Me: I have a package waiting for me when I get home. Anyone want to guess what it is?

Daughter: Is it tobacco daddy?

Me: (silence)

Daughter: Daddy?

Me (in tears): No… no sweetie it’s not.

Month 5:
It’s Latakia weather. I haven’t welcomed winter without a good bowl of Latakia in almost 7 years. How is this supposed to work? I’m just supposed to shovel my driveway without a bowl of Latakia the first time it snows? This is just… this is just exercise. Oh goodness I miss feasting.

I pulled out my rack of pipes to clean them today, but could only make it through the bottom row (about 1/3 of the total pipes). They were really dirty and I don’t think I’ve ever cleaned them this thoroughly. But then, once I’d done a few I just couldn’t put myself through it any longer. I plan to come back and clean them all so they all get a good long rest after a cleaning. But I’m not sure when I’ll have the gumption to face them again. Every one of them means so much to me.

Month 6:
I’m about half way through. This is a surmountable mountain. People keep asking me how I feel.

I feel like shit.

But not from withdrawal, I just desperately miss tobacco. And I never felt bad ON tobacco.

When I describe what I miss, people make fun, "It sounds like you’re lamenting the loss of an old friend." That is indeed an apt description. I miss packing my small bowls to go for a walk with my wife at night. I miss my massive bowls for when I’m sitting on my front porch in the sun to plow through a pile of work. I also miss sitting with a friend and sharing a bowl of camaraderie.

I flew to Miami last week for a week and the whole time I was on the beach, I could think of nothing other than how much better the beach would be with tobacco. Then I was in Austin this week and there was a cigar shop across from the conference center I was at—I hung my head in sadness and forced myself to walk in the opposite direction. No tobacco for me.

I’ll survive. But I’m not having any fun. Six more months and I’m a free man.

If you’re smoking something delicious, take in the glory of what you have. The way it helps you digest. The way a grassy Virginia starts off mellow and builds towards the sweetness it ends with. Enjoy the way a Burley fills your entire mouth and seems to expand through your head and down to your toes, the earthy flavor awakening your senses and filling you to capacity where you didn’t know you were empty.

Partake of a Perique-heavy blend on a walk with a friend, and enjoy the spice in the cold, or the way the spice perfectly compliments the warmth in a way red peppers in food just can’t. And as the weather turns colder for us northern-hemisphere folks, let the smokiness of a good Latakia blend remind you of a fire, if you’re not sitting beside one.

I could carry on, but I’d rather not.

Six more months and I’m a free man.

5 Responses

  • Great article! Hats off to you for your endeavor and for chronicling it for the rest of us to see how the ride has been.
    No need to go into the situation further, but I sold insurance for quite some time and there were other ways around the “tobacco user” check box without jeopardizing your coverage.
    Then again, I know this varies by state and by company.

  • Thanks, that sounds pretty brutal.
    I will be mindful of my enjoyment of the sweet leaf for you.
    6 months, you can make it!!

  • What’s to prevent the ins co from asking the same question upon your next renewal? Maybe shop around for a different provider.