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Smoking

I had my first cigarette somewhere around mid-November 2002, standing at my brand new address in New York City: 35 Fifth Avenue. I was 18 years old. I had never smoked in high school, and took it up for reasons inbetween an excuse to stand out on Fifth Avenue at dusk and a small act of rebellion. I looked forward to those early cigarettes, mostly taken with friends. Sometimes, we would sit on the stoop across the street. But, we weren’t smokers.

I had one a day for a month or so, then, sometimes, if I was really enjoying myself, I had two. Then, sometimes, I would have a cigarette after lunch. Never in the morning though, I would tell myself.

Then, sometimes, I would smoke in the morning.

I had my last cigarette on March 12, 2010, standing in front of my office on Broadway and White Street. I am 26 years old and have smoked on and off (mostly on) for seven and a half years. By my calculations, I’ve had upwards of 20,000 cigarettes. Strangest thing is, I’ve enjoyed most of them. I really liked smoking.

Many of those cigarettes were smoked outside of Tisch at NYU where I made most of my college friends. I’ve smoked cigarettes in half a dozen countries and numerous cities. I remember smoking a cigarette with my dad (the only one ever) after my grandfather’s funeral. When I was working as an assistant director on various sets, I smoked over a pack a day. But I’ve also cut back and at times stopped buying them, bumming them from friends. I’ve smoked cigarettes with Uma Thurman and Meryl Streep. I’ve smoked so many cigarettes that it’s been ingrained in my personality. Though recently, I’ve been thinking about quitting.

“How much would it cost to get you to quit?” Henry asked me as I was about to go outside to smoke.

“I don’t know,” I said, and sat down next to him.

I wasn’t quite ready, I said, but soon.

“You never feel ready, it’s never a good time,” Henry said.

Fifteen minutes later, the rules of an elaborate bet were in place. We would bet $2,000 on whether or not I could quit for two years. He would give me $1,000 cash, upfront, right then. If I didn’t smoke for two years he would give me the other $1,000. Pretty good deal. However, if I didn’t make it, I owed him the first $1,000 back, as well as the $2,000 from the bet. A producer we are working with added another $1,000 in two years if I could do it and my dad added another $2,000. Now, there is $5,000 riding on me quitting and my next cigarette will cost me $3,000 and a fair amount of embarrassment.

The money helps. But much more interesting is the fight going on between two sides of my brain: I really want to smoke, at times it’s overwhelming. But I’m not going to.

I’m done and my willpower is stronger than ever.

I chewed my first toothpick somewhere around mid-September 1996, I had just turned 13—I haven’t thought too much about them since.

I’m now up to two packs a day. I just might be addicted.

- Zac Stuart-Pontier