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How To Not Be A Smoker

Casey Plett

1) Acquire a parent that smokes at least a pack a day while you’re growing up. (For clarity’s sake we will say it’s your father.) Get him to tell you that if you start smoking you will be the most intense disappointment. Promise him that you will never smoke, not ever ever ever in a million trillion years. Do this throughout your childhood. It is best if you can arrange for him to have smoked from an early age - before 16 is preferable - in order to exacerbate his fear of you smoking as early as possible. Ideally, he should also be smoking while you are in the womb, with a pack of cigarettes visible in at least one picture of your pregnant mother.

            (If it is your mother who ends up being the smoking parent, she should break down in front of you at least once with her worry that she has cut your lifespan in half because she couldn’t quit while you were in utero. Have her do this when you are extremely young, say, five.)



            2) In your teenaged years, become relentlessly judgmental towards smokers. Make yourself feel like you are doing your father proud. Berate your friends for smoking, both in front of and behind their backs. Say things like “This is the stupidest thing you could ever do,” and “Did you hear that so-and-so smokes now? It’s fucking ridiculous!” Be particularly and cruelly disparaging towards any exes who begin smoking, and be unable to get the image of them with cigarettes out of your mind.

            Defend against attempts of diffusion on your campaign by invoking your father, developing cold responses like “Look, this is going to kill my dad, I’ve seen him struggle just to walk up a hill, I’ve seen him go without food for cigarettes, so pardon me if I’m concerned.” Perfect a hardened stare and a crack in your voice for these speeches. This should ward off most critics, but practice a wordless snort before a dramatic exit for those who still deign to judge your crusade.

            Arrange for your father to quit smoking around the time you graduate high school. Find that you are overjoyed, and also that you perversely miss his habit. Spend a lot of energy denying how much you enjoy the smell of cigarette smoke.


            3) Meet smokers in your post-high school years. They should be somewhat witty and remind you a lot of your father. Befriend them and hang out with them on the porches and sidewalks where they smoke. It’s important that these people offer you a cigarette the first time you meet them, but don’t pressure you to smoke in any way. This will ensure your increasing inability to judge them, and further your attraction to the smell.

            Stop criticizing smokers. If you have done step 2 correctly, your old friends will soon comment on your new lack of condemnation. Prepare a shrug for when they bring it up, as if you’ve barely thought about it. Say something like, “I guess I’m a little more relaxed now.” Change the subject.


            4) Have your first cigarette. A year after you’ve moved out of your parents’ house is probably the best time to do this, though any point in your young adulthood will do.

            It’s important that you do this spontaneously, say, on your back porch with your roommate who smokes occasionally and whom you have met from Step 3. Ask him for a cigarette and walk down the street to light it by yourself, wanting this moment to be one of reflection and insight.  

            Gain no insight, but enjoy the smoke. Walk back to your porch and have your roommate chide you that you aren’t inhaling. Inhale. Remember the way your father tapped the ashes off by hitting his pointer finger on the front of the cigarette, and do the same. Smoke it completely down to the butt because you’re not sure when to stop. Laugh about the whole event afterwards, and make sure you don’t regret it. Think you have had an enjoyable experience that has satisfied your curiosity about cigarettes.


            5) Begin to smoke a couple months after your first one. Lightly, maybe a pack a month, a few of which you will give to friends. Smoke on your walk home from the bus, or outside of a coffee shop at midnight. Ensure the cigarettes are hidden whenever your father visits, or any family at all, really.          

            Smoke just a little more during stressful periods, like finals or break-ups. Never smoke around any old friends unless they are doing so as well. Say “no” every time you go to the doctor and are asked if you smoke.


            6) Date smokers. Date as many as you like, but you should definitely mix in at least one who doesn’t like it when you smoke, as they are trying to quit themselves. Don’t smoke around this person, but have a mild desire for their cigarette every time they smoke, and accompany them on their smoke breaks. Try to make this person significantly older than you, and have qualities that oddly remind you of both your father and your childhood with him. It is also helpful if this person has a mildly bleak disposition and drinks just a bit too much.

            Conversely, make sure you also date at least one smoker who does like it when you smoke, and offers you a cigarette every time they are having one. Smoke less than them, but still far more than you would on your own. This person should be younger than you, though if they’re the same age that’s okay.

            It’s not a bad idea if you can get this person to drink more than a bit too much. They should also sleep late, eat terribly, spend money they don’t have, and generally have an out-of-control joie de vivre that is infectious, impossible to dislike, and accordingly causes your life to be gloriously awash in sin.

            Break up with both of these people for no articulate reason. Have them hate you. Deserve it.



            7) Continue smoking, but become creepingly uneasy about it. Hide it more. Waver for a second when the doctor asks before you say “no”. Consider buying a carton to save money. Walk into a smoking shop intending to do so, then walk out empty-handed. Complain about a public smoking ban that has just been passed in your area, but be internally grateful that this means you will smoke less. Smoke less. Smoke more. Smoke inside your apartment when your roommate is gone. Practice blowing rings. Admire the haze. Watch your favorite movie with a bottle of wine and go through a few smokes doing it. Clumsily knock the little plate you’ve used as an ashtray to the floor when you get up. Cry. Do all of these things exactly.

            It’s imperative throughout all of these steps that you don’t tell your dad you’ve ever smoked. Be too afraid it would kill him. However, let it slip to your mother that you have smoked “a couple times”. Laugh about it. Assure her they were chance occurrences. Get depressed when she believes you.


            8) Decide to move to a different town, and plan to not smoke once you’re there. You can move to any town of any size, though you probably want to be at least a few hours away from your old one so it’s hard to return to, and if you move to a state with high tobacco taxes and public smoking bans, that’s certainly a plus.

            It’s best if you can move for a reason other than just quitting smoking. You can move solely to quit if it’s truly necessary, but be aware this will subject you to a grotesque amount of self-loathing for admitting that you have such a problem, and in such a case you should at least make up a fake reason why you’re leaving, preferably one you can believe yourself.

            Vow to stop smoking the moment you leave town. Smoke more than usual in your last few weeks. En route to your new town, observe a smoker’s cigarette at a rest stop/airport lounge/train platform. Consider bumming one of them. Don’t do it.


            9) Live in your new town. Enjoy all the classic ups and downs of doing so. Have adventures. Be tempted every time you see a cigarette. Don’t stop being attracted to the smell. Drink a lot. Still don’t tell your dad. Tell yourself you’ll make it at least a month. Do it. Tell yourself you’ll make it another.






Casey Plett is an MFA writing student at Columbia University as well as a columnist for McSweeney's Internet Tendency. He lives in New York and can be reached by e-mailing, or by looking for a tall drunk man wearing a skirt at any bar around Morningside Heights.


A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure. - Henry David Thoreau


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