I started smoking when I was about 19 years old. I had just moved out of my mother’s house for the first time and was living with 3 other girls my age. We had lots of parties and went to night clubs on weekends. They all smoked and I soon found that inhaling my own cigarette was more pleasurable than inhaling everybody else’s secondhand smoke.
But I was different than many smokers I knew. I could never stomach smoking in the morning. It made me feel very nauseated and ill. And I couldn’t smoke more than a few cigarettes a day. I also didn’t seem to “need” them the way others did. If I was at my mother’s house, or out for dinner, I could go without a cigarette with no distress. People said I would eventually get addicted and smoke more and more, but I never did. I smoked for the next 14 years and kept that same pattern. I rarely smoked during the day unless I was going through something extremely stressful. I would have 3 or 4 cigarettes over the course of an evening, after dinner. And that was that.
When I was 33 and newly married I suspected I might be pregnant. I took a home pregnancy test and while I was waiting the requisite 3 minutes, I had a cigarette. I knew that if the test was positive it would be my last smoke for a long time. And it was. My test turned out to be positive.
I’ve just finished reading The Tipping Point. In it, the author addresses the issue of teen smoking. He points out that the current strategy for curbing teen smoking is to prevent teens from getting access to cigarettes, the idea being that if they don’t start then they won’t get addicted. The author claims that of all the teens who try smoking, a third of them find it so unpleasant that they never take it up as a habit. Another third become addicted. The final third he called “chippers”.
Chippers smoke about 5 cigarettes a day, don’t smoke in the morning, and can go without smoking for prolonged periods with no distress or difficulty. Chippers seem to have the sort of weak tolerance for nicotine that allows them to engage in enough smoking to get the pleasurable effects of nicotine, without being able to smoke enough to get addicted. Like myself, chippers feel sick and have other unpleasant effects if they smoke more than about 5 in one day. It seems us chippers have the kind of genetic makeup that is resistant to addiction. It was neat to read that smokers like me are part of a known group of individuals who seem to defy current wisdom that says smoking is always addictive.
I remember many years ago in an undergraduate lecture in pharmacology, a prof spoke of the theory that certain people are prone to addiction, while others are actually resistant to it. For example, among the general population, a significant number of individuals possess a genetic mutation that makes it difficult for them to properly metabolize alcohol. The get a buildup of a byproduct that produces nausea and vomiting – overindulging in alcohol has extremely unpleasant consequences for such people. However, among the population of alcoholics only a tiny fraction of individuals had this mutation (apparently they were so messed up that drinking was worth it despite the fact that it made them so ill).
After this lecture I was convinced that I fit the profile of those who are resistant to addiction. Smoking in the morning, or smoking too much, made me feel very ill. Ditto with drinking. And while I certainly indulged in drinking during my younger, party days I was never on a par with the true party animals. I couldn’t hold much alcohol, and my hangovers were nasty affairs that left me basically unable to cope. Because of this, the times I actually got really drunk were few and far between. Even smoking pot produced enough unpleasant effects that I was never interested in doing so. And I wondered….were there other people like me?
Now I know…we’re chippers!