Smoking routines burned deep
Separating cigarettes from daily activities turns into first psychological battle
In two weeks, John Rea will quit smoking.
To wean himself of his 28-year habit, he has stopped smoking in his home and car.
Quitting gradually is a technique his counselor recommended to gently break the associations Rea has with smoking. But he quickly learns that addiction is just as cunning as psychology.
On more than one occasion, he has pulled over to the berm of a highway to light up. Technically, heâ€™s still playing by the rules because he stands outside his car when he smokes.
His car, a silver Hyundai Elantra, has an ashtray in the back seat â€” one of the reasons he bought it.
Driving is one of several situations in which Rea has always smoked. Another is talking on the phone.
"When the phone rings, I reach for a cigarette before I pick it up. If I got a wrong number, I still smoke anyway," Rea says.
So now, when the phone rings, he usually doesnâ€™t answer it.
He also has switched his smoking hand (from left to right) and brand (Marlboro Light to Doral Light).
The behavior modification is designed to help coax him into smoking less than his usual pack a day.
The trouble is, heâ€™s still smoking as much as he was before he went to the Central Ohio Breathing Association for help with quitting.
For Rea, a cloud of smoke softens lifeâ€™s rough edges.
He sold cars in 2003 before deciding to trade roles with his wife for a while and take care of their daughter, Cameron, now 5 years old.
As he contemplates giving up cigarettes, he thinks about the ways smoking soothed his tensions when he worked at the car lot. If he had to talk to a mechanic about a car, for example, he would light up first.
"Normally, thereâ€™s friction â€” mechanics thinking we were better than they are," Rea says.
But not with a cigarette. Like a long white key, a cigarette opened doors when inserted in the mouth.
"If a customer asked to light up, I knew I made the sale," he says.
Rea has also worked construction, an occupation rather like one long smoke break because you can light up on the job, which everybody did.
"Heck, I donâ€™t think I knew anyone who didnâ€™t smoke," Rea says.
In the coming days, Rea will clear his house of ashtrays and lighters and stock up on nicotine patches supplied by the Breathing Association.
His favorite lighter is one he calls a "parabolic reflector." Itâ€™s solar-powered and can fire up a cigarette with rays from the sun, the way a magnifying glass can ignite a dry leaf. He bought it so he would never be stranded without a light.
Itâ€™s the one lighter he canâ€™t bear to throw away.