How to Quit Smoking When You’re Really, Really Good at It

New York City writer Annie Hamilton’s fear of cigarettes is beginning to gain on her love of them, so she packed a box of nicotine-free vapes and flew to LA to experiment with (relatively) clean living.

How to Quit Smoking When Youre Really Really Good at It

Illustration by Rob Vargas

I started smoking cigarettes because I couldn’t get a first kiss. I didn’t know how else to be cool, and everyone was kissing, and in order to get a first kiss, you have to find another willing participant, so at age 14 I bought my first pack of Marlboro Reds. I turned out to be good at smoking; maybe even the best.

I went from Reds to Camel Blues to Parliaments to, now, Marlboro Blend No. 27s—and sometimes Dunhills, if I’ve just been paid. I have enough opinions about tobacco to refuse an American Spirit. (I wouldn’t smoke those things on a desert island. They taste bad, I don’t care what the actors in Los Angeles say.)

It didn’t matter that I had funny bow legs and sucked up to the popular girls. With no prior social verification, I had Cigarettes to do the talking for me. I started smoking more of them than I wanted to or even liked. I was tolerating a pack a day by the time I hit 16. When fellow teenagers asked me if my mother knew, I’d respond, “How could she not?”

By the time I was a senior in high school, I was known for smoking. The “cool” group of parents (it never ends, does it?) gathered in the Hamptons for a party one night, and a solid topic of conversation was “that Annie—the chimney.” This was the first time I felt shame for smoking, but I still didn’t stop.

Whenever I feel scared, or uninteresting, or boring, or sad, or horny, or tired, or pretty much any ounce of emotion, I smoke a cigarette. I have too many feelings to feel all of them all of the time. Plus, I like being social every second of every day. Loneliness curbs with a cigarette in between my fingers.

Smoking is the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I do before I go to sleep. I got caught clutching a vape during doggy-style sex by an ex who deserved it (me vaping during sex). Sometimes I’m proud of it. Smoking is the least desperate thing anyone can do. My desperation would spill out if I stopped smoking. It would smell bad, worse than an American Spirit. That’s what I think when I’m feeling proud.

But I don’t always feel proud. I’m at the stage of smoking, of my life, of eight attempts at quitting, where I’m getting scared. When I’m scared, only a cigarette can help, and that’s what I’m especially scared about.

I should quit, yeah. I’m scared and pissed and pissy—scared and pissed and pissy enough to try a new product called Ripple.

Ripple is a brand of nicotine-free vapes that offers an “aromatherapy experience tailored to individual moments of need.” According to the Ripple representative I spoke to, it is geared for managing “occasional cravings or those looking to soothe oral fixations.” As in: It’s probably better for smokers who have already quit for real. As in: I’m just gonna look at this product as a way to cut back. That’s all I’m ready for, anyway.

I’m in Los Angeles, which is probably the best place to do this. (I live in New York City.) There aren’t a lot of smokers here, and the people who do smoke are, for the most part, gross to me. I open the Ripple gift box. It’s beautiful. It includes a gorgeous ashtray (?) and a Zippo lighter (for crying out loud), along with various stickers that say smoking isn’t cool. These Ripple people really get me; though, wow, what mixed signals. They’ve “collabed” with the artist and photographer Coco Capitán. I put the “f**k nicotine” Coco sticker on the back of my phone as I take the ashtray to my best male friend’s backyard and light up. He’s a smoker too. It’s a smoker/smoker relationship.

We come up with a game plan: Smoke as few cigarettes as we possibly can, with the help of Ripple. Not quit, just streamline. Minimize. Ease into it. Well—my pal’s not gonna actually participate in this experiment with me, ’cause he doesn’t have to write an article for GQ about it, but he’ll casually test it out. I’ve decided to interview him about smoking for this piece, as I’m at a loss for what to write about. I puff on a “focus” Ripple. The package they’ve given me includes six types of Ripple “diffusers”: Power, Relax, Dream, Boost, Focus, and Happy. Zero percent nicotine, 6,000 puffs. All right. Focusing up.

Writing about smoking is depressing. I can never get it right. I just can’t seem to do it justice. I’ve tried for years. It’s the only topic I know a lot about that I just can’t put on paper. That’s one reason. The other reason is that nonsmokers just don’t get it. So…this article is for smokers. If you’re reading this and you only smoke when you’re drunk, quit while you’re ahead. Ya just won’t find it interesting.

So I puff on my Focus Ripple and it actually is nice. It’s not Elf Bar nice, ’cause there’s no nicotine in it, but it definitely soothes my desire for a cigarette for the time being. It’s like puffing on a Poland Spring. It feels light and it kinda tickles my throat in the same way a cigarette does. My heartbeat doesn’t slow down the way nicotine makes it slow, but…I’m determined to solely Ripple for the afternoon.

I write down some smoking q’s and begin to quiz my BFF as he puffs on a spliff (not a cigarette, but sure). I begin by asking him if he wants to quit, and he surprises me by saying yes. This man doesn’t at all read as wanting to quit at all. I sigh and tell him he’s ruined my next question, and he surprises me again by wanting to answer it. I’m just gonna put the Q&A here.

Me: Do you want to quit smoking?

Him (with spliff in hand): Yes.

Why don’t you want to quit smoking?

It’s part of who I am. It’s how other people—and me—see me.

When do you think you’ll quit?

When I’m okay with not living up to people’s expectations.

What do you love about it?

It makes you feel like you’re in a movie, it’s a real Fuck You to death, and…sorry…you look hot doing it.

What scares you about it?

That other people know it’s killing me.

I’m gonna cut to the chase. Ripple is not the tool that’s gonna get me off cigarettes forever, but I don’t think that they’re claiming it to be. I wanted it to be that; I wanted to solely commit to the Ripple. But vapes look lame! They make you look lame, and they taste lamer! Ripples look good on my kitchen countertop—all of the packaging and design is beautiful—but I don’t want to puff on one in public, which seems to be the major suggested use for them: as a good alternative for smoking at parties. Ripple has helped me cut back while I’m writing—I smoke a lot while I write—and it’s helped me before bed and when I’m in cars (I’ve been vaping in cars; it’s a lot, I know). Ripple is a surefire way to cut back. It is not going to help me quit; it hasn’t helped me quit. But it’s not Ripple’s fault. I don’t wanna.

I included my friend’s spliffed-out answers because they summarize how I feel about smoking. Smoking is, as much as I do it alone, about other people. It’s a connector and identifier. I don’t know how I’m going to walk down the street without a cigarette. I don’t know how I’ll introduce myself without a cigarette, or be in love without a cigarette, or celebrate without a cigarette, or deal with my rage without a cigarette. I’m not ready yet.

So I lounged about in LA for a month, enjoying Ripple and a half-pack of cigarettes a day (normally I smoke a pack and a half a day). I felt clean. I went to Erewhon. I woke myself up with coffee from a coffee place that is entirely pink and shiny and that Dave Franco frequented at the same time as me. (I loved that me and “Dave” were on the same schedule, and he just seemed so nice sitting there, it was hard not to say hi to him.) I hopped on a Lime scooter and laughed all the way to Echo Park. I had a good time. I had the first good time I’ve had in LA in years. I puffed on my Ripple and wrote about my newfound appreciation for LA. I chugged on my “Boost” Ripple. It’s the best one. It’s the fruitiest.

And now I’m back in NY, my Ripples tucked away in my junk drawer. (I realize that this article promotes smoking in some way, and I must say: I wish I had never begun. Please don’t smoke if you’re young. Knock it off. I’m still scared. I must see the hypnotist. I’m turning 31. It’s time.)

But I woke up this morning and had my coffee and went to buy a new pack of 27s and passed a group of street teens (they were in their 30s, but teen-esque) who seemed like they’d appreciate a fresh pack themselves. I bought myself a pack, and bought them one too. When I passed it off to the group, they freaked out. “What an act of kindness! What an act of fucking service! THANK YOU! I smiled and walked off, lighting one of my own. They get it—of course they get it. Smoking in NY is one of the truest pieces of happiness I know.

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