Why Can Some People Smoke Cigarettes Non-Addictively?
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Why Can Some People Smoke Cigarettes Non-Addictively?


not addicted to smoking

(This post was originally published in June 2014.)

I vaguely remember what I think might have been the first time I smoked a cigarette. Or maybe it actually wasn’t, because the incident in question happened when I was 14, and I feel pretty certain that my first cig actually happened way earlier than that.

In any case, I was with my high school BFF, and we were on a high school ski trip (FANCY!). We were hanging out—awkwardly as usual—in some kind of lounge or waiting room-type area (uh, yeah, maybe my memory’s not quite as good as I’d thought), sitting beside the Hottest Boy in Class, who said BFF happened to be dating (lucky asshole).

He pulled out a pack of cigs, passed one to my friend, then passed one to me, and lit us both up. I remember watching my friend intently as she raised the cute little cancer stick to her lips and inhaled, blowing it out quickly in a little grey gust. I did the same. Then B. (the boy in question) pointed and laughed at both of us, saying, “DUHHHHHH, you guys—you didn’t even inhale! That doesn’t count as smoking!!!” Sigh. Le Fail.

And so began the days—which would actually last a matter of years—of me desperately trying to prove I knew WTF I was doing each and every time I whipped out another cancer stick (usually in social situations I felt uncomfortable in). Like many kids who’ll faithfully devour any and all kind of fucked-up media message thrown their way, I naturally equated cigarettes with all things cool and dark and different and sexy.

All the celebrities I admired were smokers; who cares if some of them had died tragically young? I wanted what they had, so I had to smoke cigarettes too. Simple as that. I imagined myself looking just like Nico from the Velvet Underground each and every time I lit up—blonde, morose, coy and painfully mysterious.

Though my obsession with cigs’ cool factor went on for years—and for a year or so in college, when I smoked up to a pack a day— somehow, miraculously, I never got addicted. I wasn’t even addicted when I smoked a pack a day! I was just perpetually nervous and futilely trying to impress the cool kids, see.

To this day, I’m able to choose when I want a cigarette (it happens literally around once per year), and I usually don’t want any more after that. I realize this is painfully lucky, especially because I do have addictive tendencies when it comes to other substances.

What gives? Why I can I smoke casually here and there while so so many others around the globe just…can’t? Researchers from the Mexican Institute of Respiratory Diseases (INER) are trying to answer those very questions, and they “believe they have developed a virtual platform that measures the level of addiction of smokers.” It’s a self-reported thing, though—i.e., it’s not especially scientific, as it amounts to a bunch of smokers filling out a survey about their habits.

The researchers don’t seem to have reached any formal conclusions yet about what makes or breaks a “real” smoker, but one of them, Vargas Rojas, notes that “after the first inhalation of cigarette smoke, nicotine provokes a stimulus capable of generating these substance receptors, which are formed not only in the brain but throughout the body. Thus, these cells will always be waiting for the addictive substance.”

But we already knew that, didn’t we? No matter what the survey results eventually turn up, I’ll happily stick to my super-occasional, non-addicted cig, thanks very much.

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and CNN.com. Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.