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Worst effects of cigarette smoking? One you’ll get but sadly never learn about

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Worst effects of cigarette smoking? Cancer? Emphysema? Horrible, but there’s one horror no smokers gets away from. Some never really learn about it or its consequences. For twenty or so years counted in Winstons and Marlboros, I didn’t. Then, one summer evening encounter with friends, I found out that I stunk.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

By David Stone

Assorted Ideas, Large & Small

close up photo of cigarette
Stink bombs ready for ignition. Photo by Basil MK on

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists the worst effects of cigarette smoking in terms of public health. There’s a hit list of cancers caused, but one statistic stands out.

Smoking causes more deaths each year than the following causes combined:

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Illegal drug use
  • Alcohol use
  • Motor vehicle injuries
  • Firearm-related incidents

Back when I sucked down a pack and a half, every day, it was worse. Since then, forty years passed, and intense efforts lowered usage and risk.

But it still bothers me, seeing young people with lit cigarettes in hand.

“By the time I get cancer, they’ll have a cure for it,” my friends and I used to say.

Later, it was, “If the right doesn’t get you, the left one will,” minimizing the hazards against other risks.

I was wrong and sort of knew it, but that’s not what got me to quit.

A short story about the worst effect of cigarette smoking

My best friend then, Jim, didn’t smoke. Let me qualify that. Jim didn’t smoke tobacco.

We shared many other things in common, like Monty Python, devotion to the Buffalo Bills and Sabres, being indie artists and, of course, almost always being close to broke.

In fact, we hung out together so much, some thought we were gay. But we were not, and a good thing too. As high energy as we were, as fiercely independent, as a couple, one of us surely would’ve killed the other. Or perished from exhaustion.

But in our mid-twenties, one thing we shared most was an enthusiasm for women. Friends, lovers and any stops in between. We’d both been married, and one of us had even gotten legally divorced.

Looking into the decades ahead brought a philosophy of Do It Now, while there was time. No future time would ever be as full as this one.

To my surprise, that included discovering and, then, eliminating the worst effects of cigarette smoking.

I got the habit from my dad. Each of his days started and ended the same way: a cup of instant coffee braced by a pair of filter tip cigarettes. The only feature I dropped was the “instant” part. By then, I was drinking real coffee recently squeezed through roasted beans.

The night we met the doctors…

A pair of interns lived next door, and it was our good luck that both were female.

“Mom always wanted me to marry a doctor,” Jim said.

man and woman holding hands walking on seashore during sunrise
I could’ve walked away with a doctor. Photo by Asad Photo Maldives on

We accosted them one evening as they arrived home. As they fumbled for keys, we peppered them with Pythonesque jokes and routines and followed them inside for coffee.

Jim made them promise it wouldn’t be freeze dried.

A few minutes later, we were standing across the kitchen table from each other.

In case you haven’t noticed, doctors can be a lot like the rest of us once they’re away from their smocks and dangling stethoscopes.

Anyway, Doctor #1, the one I liked, interrupted our playful banter with an observation.

“You smoke, don’t you…” she said, her face twisted slightly with discomfort.

She’d smelled me from six feet away.

About the worst effect of cigarette smoking…

The social stigma of cigarette smoking worsens with saturation of stink on your clothes, your hands, your hair.

The worst effect of cigarette smoking you seldom hear about is how it turns others off. Think about it: I could’ve married a doctor, if she could stand being in the same room with me. Shame was, we were otherwise compatible, easy with each other. We could’ve become best friends, if never lovers.

But another truth tumbled out. I had never noticed how badly I stunk from cigarettes.

The meant, I also never really smelled a rose, freshly turned soil or coffee roasting in Jim’s bin.

Within a few years, my new wife convinced me to quit, and I was surprised, after all the scary stories, how easy it was. No withdrawal. No nothing but an occasional wish for one more cigarette polishing off my coffee.

Thanks to that, my risk of cancer, like the one that killed my dad, and other diseases is far less, and now, I go along through my seventies, never having been sick and no longer trailing cigarette stink behind me.

You’re lucky when you’re still young enough to quit that awful, smelly habit.

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4 replies »

  1. So…I’m a massage therapist. I used to smoke, and quit- THANK GOD- before massage school/practice. However, I evaluated many massage students after becoming part of the faculty. Dig: Prior to evaluation, massage student washes hands, brushes teeth, rinses with Listerine, changes clothes. The INSTANT said student hovers over my face, I can SMELL THEIR EXHALE! Through their nose! Nasal hairs absorb it!! And no matter how much handwashing, that essence takes hold! I always gave honest feedback and it’s not judgmental! I don’t care if they smoked, but…does anyone want to have smoke breath in their face while trying to relax? Ugh. (this is why masks are good!)

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