Fool for a Cigarette

I'd like to introduce you to Bill. A smoker for 35 years, his story illustrates just how insidious nicotine addiction can be. Those of us who have struggled to break free will identify with what he has to say -- we know exactly what it is like to desperately wish we could quit while lighting up one cigarette after another.

If you're still smoking, take the inspiration Bill's story offers and use it as a foundation to set your own dream of freedom in motion. Quitting is possible...Bill is living proof of that.

How many times have you heard songs about fools? There must be as many fool references in music as there are trains. Fool for love, fool and his money goes separate ways, foolish games, fool for your stockings, fooled around and fell in love, won’t get fooled get the picture. Fools and foolish behavior are good song material. One of my all time favorites is "Fool for a Cigarette."

A year ago on September 14, 2009 at 5:36 PM I adopted Ry Cooder’s version of this old song as my new theme when I put down cigarettes for the last time. I decided that I would never again be a "Fool for a Cigarette." No matter what else in life I did, smoking was not going to be part of the equation.

Boy did I feel like a fool when the first few weeks turned into months of crawling out of my skin, jumping at shadows, and generally just hanging on every day to stay sane without the frequent nicotine buzz that accompanied me in every waking hour of my life for 35 years or more.

Listening to this song I can relate when he says:

"Ahh mister I hope this ain’t no insult, but would you save me that old butt. When you finish choke it, cause I needs to smoke it. Mister I’m a fool ‘bout a cigarette."

One week prior to my 50th birthday in March 2009, during my second unsuccessful quit using nicotine gum, I conveniently left a full butt can in the garage so I could salvage a few puffs off of the nasty butts every morning to help alleviate the withdrawal symptoms the gum couldn’t quell.

I was truly a fool for a cigarette!

This mind trick lasted less than a week and I went back to buying a fresh pack every day. Once again I was convincing myself that I was not quite ready to quit but preferred instead, clinging to the foolish notion that since I’d quit once before for a whopping 4 months, that I could easily do it again.

"Just like a car needs gasoline, got to have my nicotine. Lord I’m a fool for a cigarette."

The problem with the first quit was that I never really quit! I was a few months shy of 49 and felt if I didn’t quit smoking before I turned 50, I’d just as well give up the foolish idea that I was somehow strong enough to whip the nicodemon.

I had a half-hearted plan and it worked for a while. I took the medicine, had the dreams, got depressed and angry, went for weeks at a time without smoking, but continued to foolishly "dabble" with one smoke here and there. This behavior allowed me to never really kill the notion in the back of my mind that it was over!

I got over-confident after a few months and just knew I had it under control.

One night after sitting in a smoke-filled bar listening to a band, I figured there was no harm in one cigarette bummed from the bartender at the end of the night before going home. I even told myself that it would taste awful and reaffirm my dedication to quitting.


It turned out to be the best tasting smoke I ever had. It was so good, I bought a pack on the way home and smoked three more cigarettes before I got there, all the while telling myself that I’d put them down as soon as the pack was gone.

Believe it or not for close to two weeks, I only smoked one a day in the morning with my coffee, which somehow quickly turned into more daring behavior where I would sneak off under the deck. I tried to convince myself that no one but me needed to know that my journey to freedom had once again been stifled by the need to smoke "just one more."

"It’s the worst old habit I ever had. Well I sure want me a cigarette bad...Man I’m a fool ‘bout a cigarette."

Smoking is indeed a foolish habit. In textbook addict fashion, smokers never really consider the consequences when they light up, preferring instead to have the "it won’t happen to me" attitude. They say things like "look at Uncle George, 85 and still puffing away." Smokers will do anything to convince themselves that smoking might be like sticking your hand into a bucket of rattle snakes for most folks, but for them it’s no riskier than driving a car or flying in a plane.

I spent most of my 20s and 30s with the typical, "it won’t happen to me attitude," which gradually got replaced by this idea that I’d quit before I reached 40 years old. After I turned 35, I started having a daily conversation with myself about how I needed to quit, how I would do it soon, or that one day I’d just put them down and move on.

Ahhh, what foolishness that kind of junkie thinking was – all it did was prolong the notion that I’ll quit "tomorrow." Next thing I knew, tomorrow had turned into a decade. What a joke! Forty came and went and I was still smoking like a chimney in winter.

"Mister I sure hate to bother you, but don’t forget when you are through. Don’t you step on it and bruise it, cause I want to use it. Yes sir I’m a fool for a cigarette."

By the time I celebrated my 45th year, I’d lost two of my closest friends to heart attacks in less than three years. Both of them were heavy smokers, but my nicotine-saturated brain continued to convince me that smoking didn’t really contribute to their weakened hearts, so why should I be too worried about it. I mean after all, I was going to quit "soon."

"Well I puff and I puff and I puff and puff, but still I just can’t get enough...Mister I’m a fool ‘bout a cigarette."

Family and close friends would consistently remind me that I should think about quitting, that it was unbecoming, it stunk, it was nasty, expensive etc. The more they warned, the more I smoked and continued to remind them that "one day" I’d be ready to quit. The problem is I never had a plan for quitting. It was always just a whimsical thought process that lasted a few days where I’d think about "cutting down." I would cut down for a day or so, just long enough to realize how uncomfortable it was to go extended periods without my next nicotine fix.

Sometimes I’d ponder the latest, greatest medication or method designed to miraculously set you free of the nicotine monkey just long enough to realize that I was scared to death of quitting and that nothing was going to stop this habit without a lot of diligent effort and self discipline. It was much easier to buy a pack and keep on smoking like a fool.

A New Quit and a New Attitude

This time I had a plan to win the battle with nicotine. I got hypnotized twice in the first two weeks, which helped me get a grasp on the notion that I controlled the addiction, not the nicotine. I came back to the Smoking Cessation Forum and read and typed, and read and typed.

I re-learned about the power of nicotine addiction, about what it takes to quit, what to expect during the initial days and weeks, and most importantly commiserated, testified, and listened to people from all over the world in the same boat as me – folks just like me who were struggling to be free.

I walked off the urges and cravings on my breaks, chewed gum, ate hard candy, drank lots of water, and read stories of sick people gasping for air but still smoking. I made myself believe that smoking put me in a lower class of "fools" who had to go outside in the cold at a party and come back in stinking and shivering. I convinced myself that if I ever took another puff off of a cigarette that I’d never be able to quit again.

I know for certain that I never want to experience those first few days of physical withdrawal from nicotine or the weeks and months of struggling with that foolish voice in my head preaching about how good that smoke would be.

"Mind when you throw your cigarette. Be sure that you don’t get it wet. Because when they’re wet and broken, it’s so hard to smoke ‘em. Yes sir I’m a fool ‘bout a cigarette."

A year and two weeks after my last cigarette, I still crave the nicotine, but I’m no longer a Fool for a Cigarette. I still have to make my mind up every day that I just can’t dabble or play around with this scary stuff that makes you throw all your money and caution to the wind for another puff.

I still need frequent reminders that one drag for me would mean a sure and certain end to all of the hard work it’s taken to get here and I’d be right back on the nicotine train, going to a convenience store at 2 am to throw away my hard earned money on something that stinks and shortens my life. Lord I (was) a fool for a cigarette.

All of the good folks on the Smoking Cessation Forum will tell you how hard it is to quit, how it’s a struggle, a fight, and just downright painful at times to give up this nasty habit. They all have a common purpose and that’s freedom from nicotine addiction. They can tell you how important it is to take the Monday NOPE (Not One Puff Ever) pledge, or they can help reassure you that it eventually gets easier and the cravings ebb with time.

Even though I don’t frequent the forum as much as I did, all it takes is a stressful situation to send me back there to read posts from people who are still struggling with the addiction or are no longer struggling but offering their time and wisdom to help others along in their quit journey. Some of these good folks have dedicated their lives to helping others overcome the addiction.

I’ve been overwhelmed and encouraged by all of the positive responses from people congratulating me on my year milestone – celebrating with me, slapping me on the back, and confirming just how liberating it is to finally be free.

I know that I have to keep a constant eye on the nicodemon’s ugly presence, that I have to stay diligent and continue to resist the urges, and most importantly have to "believe" that I can succeed in my quest to never again be a Fool for a Cigarette!

Bill Ledbetter
October 6, 2010

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