The Price of Abstinence / ROBERT WILSON LYND

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Oct 16, 1948

The Price of Abstinence

It is five—or is it six?—weeks since I gave up smoking, and I am a little disappointed in the result.

I thought that by this time I should be so crammed with energy that I should feel like climbing the Matterhorn, or, at least, walking to the top of Hampstead Heath.

As it is, though I may be getting better, I am doing so by such slow degrees that I seem almost to be standing still. I feel no more robust, and no more virtuous, and my throat is still sore.

My only reason for not taking to tobacco again is that, as I have given smoking a fifty years’ trial, it seems only fair to give non-smoking a fifty years’ trial too. If I am still writing on this page in the year 1998, I shall be able to give you my final verdict on the relative merits of chain smoking and abstinence.

One thing that is to be said in favor of giving up smoking is that it makes other people extraordinarily sympathetic. For instance, no sooner did I mention my longing for acid drops as a cure for smoking than several readers sacrificed precious points in order to provide me with enough fruit drops to keep me sucking and crunching till Christmas.

Who ever thought of sending sweets to a lifelong non-smoker? There is something cold-blooded about so perfect a character that alienates human sympathy.

Other readers have written to describe their symptoms after a few days’ abstinence from cigarettes, and though, their letters were kindly meant, many people would have been rather scared by them. Non-smoking seems to produce in some of those who practice it symptoms not unlike those of delirium tremors.

One woman’s description of the state of her nerves was quite hair-raising. I wonder, however, whether people who get into this state after giving up tobacco do not do so simpy because they expect to do so.

Let them try the Coue method and say to themselves quietly twenty times—first thing in the morning or last thing at night—“I’m enjoying giving up tobacco,” and they will suddenly find that what they tell themselves twenty times is true.

I received one letter about the terrible consequences of giving up tobacco, however, which might easily have turned me into a smoker again had it not been for my smoker’s throat. I am sorry I have mislaid the letter, as I should have liked to quote from its realistic description of the aches and pains that followed abstinence.

My correspondent, for many years an inveterate smoker, had not given up tobacco for long when he found that his right ear had begun to swell. Later still his left ear began to swell, and then his whole face, till at length the skin over his whole body was in a terrible state.

The skin specialist who was called in to see him said that the trouble was obviously due to some dreadful shock the patient had experienced. The patient, however, could remember no shock of sufficient force to account for it.

Then one day in the course of conversation with the doctor he mentioned the fact that he had once been a heavy smoker and had given it up. The doctor angrily asked him why he had not informed him of this long ago, as this was no doubt the cause of the shock to his system that was the source of his illness. And he ordered him to begin smoking again as a cure.

My correspondent is now a smoker once more and feeling all the better for it. But, before he was cured, his abstinence had cost him months of misery in a hospital.

I will certainly keep a close watch on my right ear for some months to come, and, at the first sight of swelling, will call in, not a doctor, but a tobacconist, to cure me of the dangerous disease of non-smoking.

Meanwhile, I am grateful to my correspondent for his warning and for having provided me with a virtuous reason for resuming my ancient vice if I wish to do so.

I shall be surprised if this happens, however, for the next fifty years at least.

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