I smoked my first cigarette my freshman year of college. I can’t remember exactly, but it might have been a Marlboro Red. It was just one, while drunk. It started with “only while drinking.” I knew I didn’t want to smoke frequently. Besides, the legal smoking age in California had recently been raised to 21, so I wouldn’t be able to get my hands on them often.
A few months went by and I smoked only when I could bum a cig off a friend, always while drinking. At some point I found a half-empty pack of black American Spirits at the top of Sunset Village parking garage. I thought, “What the hell, I’ll keep them,” and made those eight or nine cigarettes last me another couple months.
Over time, I became closer with friends who smoked and I slowly started increasing my habit, bumming cig after cig. I visited home, where the legal smoking age was 18, and brought back a pack of cigarettes with me. The next time, I brought back two.
I found that while smoking paired damn well with alcohol, it went pretty nicely with morning coffee and Perrier too. A night out or a party at a friend’s included three, four, or maybe five cigarettes as I sucked them down to soothe my social anxiety. “No one’s talking to me and that’s okay because my mouth is busy with this cig anyways.” I decided “This is fine. I’m not as bad as friend X who smokes a pack a day, or friend Y who can’t go a day without a cig.”
My smoking never really progressed beyond that. A week or two could pass without a cigarette, and then a week might come where I smoked multiple per day. I never craved it desperately, and firmly believed that I was not addicted. I was more than a social smoker, but less than an addict.
Junior year, I went home over winter break and visited a vape shop with a childhood friend. She was looking to get a new vape mod (the big boy ones that look like walkie talkies). I’d hit hers a few times before and the vapor was so strong I choked immediately. We had joked about how I couldn’t handle the strength even though I smoke. After spending almost an hour in this vape shop, my friend purchased a new mod for herself. She told me she would sell me her current (and basically new) one for 50 dollars, about 30 less than it cost her. I told her I would take her deal if she included some coils and juice. We then sat in her car for a bit while she taught me how to clean, refill, and change the coil for the vape.
That night I puffed on my vape for a bit while I lay in bed. I remember that I was watching Hunter x Hunter on my laptop, blowing clouds to impress myself. When I got back to my apartment in LA, I put the vape in my closet and didn’t touch it for a few weeks.
Then I decided I’d use it more frequently. There was no one around this time. No one to fit in with but myself. I’d blow clouds while watching TV, while walking to class, while doing my homework (CS 32 Project 3 would not have been the same without clouds barraging my laptop screen every ten minutes). I met a cool guy who was also into vaping. He had a “Sourin” and we would hang out and blow clouds. For Valentine’s Day, I bought him a vape mod too.
Eventually, I got tired of the upkeep of the vape mods. There are two sitting on my desk right now with burnt-out batteries and even more-burnt juice saturating their musty cotton-threaded coils. This past summer, I made new friends who were into Juul and Puff Bar vapes–the ones that look like USBs and come in cute flavors like Lychee Ice and Cool Mint. I especially liked the convenience of the disposable vapes. They cost me around ten dollars, less when bought in bulk, and since they’re disposable, it’s not the end of the world to lose those little sticks.
Recently, the first vaping deaths have been reported, and they’ve been reported en masse. I did my research. The CDC has called it “An Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with the use of E-Cigarettes.” It’s presently unclear what exactly is the dangerous component. I’ve decided for myself that it’s most likely the black market THC vapes that are doing the damage. I’ve promised myself that I can stop anytime.
I don’t know if I am addicted. I know that, lately, I’ve gone through a disposable vape every three to five days. I know that I love to take hard and prolonged hits that make my head rush so hard I need to lie down, and to go back again in twenty minutes to get the same feeling. I don’t know why I started. I feel like I can stop anytime. Probably, I will.