I know this is a tired subject of late, and I wasn't really going to bring it back up again, but while sorting old emails I came upon something written by a friend of mine (he can claim it, if he wants to be known) in July of 1999.
It pretty much does mean your immediate death. But there's something very real about that perception -- it's not just your mother's image that makes you think that. Cigarettes are VERY serious drugs, and very harmful. They're terribly tempting, too, even if you're only mildly hooked. A while back I decided to experiment, to see what it was like to smoke cigarettes. For two weeks I smoked two a day. I'm telling you right now, it was REALLY, REALLY hard to quit -- I didn't even approach the levels of an average smoker, either! And I felt pretty hooked after just a couple days -- when it got to be that time of day, I really wanted a smoke. It was creepy.
Of course I did quit -- I don't want to die of cancer, but more immediately, my pride was hurt by the fact that I had been made a slave to a substance. So I left the rest of the pack out, well within reach, but forced myself not to smoke any, and after a few days the urge went away. What this experiment gave me (besides a cough) was a real respect for those people who go from several packs a day to no cigarettes at all. I had no idea how much self-control, presence of mind, willpower, and sheer pride it takes to break even the mildest cigarette habit. And also, now that I've experienced mass nicotine doses, I understand why so many people smoke. It really is a nice drug. It was a LOT of work to keep myself from having a third smoke towards the middle of the second week.
Pipes, on the other hand. Most people don't smoke more than 3 or four pipes a day, if they DO smoke every day. Now the bowl of a pipe contains about as much tobacco as a cigarette -- but you don't inhale the smoke, and about 10-15 percent of the tobacco never even burns. So smoking a pipe is somewhere along the lines of mostly (but not entirely) smoking two or three cigarettes a day without even bothering to inhale. Compare this to 40 fully inhaled smokes a day, and you see why cigarettes are so fricking deadly.
Cigarettes are the spawn of Satan. I hate them with a passion. I hate the way they smell, taste, look and feel. I hate the way they stain your fingers with wierd nicotine patterns before turning into dingy yellow splotches. But most of all I hate the way people just smoke one after another WITHOUT EVEN ENJOYING IT. That's the sick part. They're repulsive, but you just keep coming back for more.
That's the thing, you know. If you're going to do something unhealthy (drinking, smoking, getting involved with the wrong person, reading by candlelight, eating cheese omelettes) it better damn well be really nice to make it worthwhile. I don't really get into cigars or even pot, but a pipe is absolutely sublime -- I understand now why it is the indispensible tool of the philosopher.
But back to the subject of addiction: though I've been smoking a pipe for a couple weeks now, I've never felt like I *needed* a few puffs on it. In fact, entire days go by when I don't even think of smoking, and that is a good sign that I'm practicing moderation, I think.
Pot is very nice. I used to spend a lot of time at the local pot den in Capitola, the house of a very nice guy (and a drummer, too) named M.B. The way I kept myself from getting too hooked was by never actually purchasing pot. I would take part in circles and occasionally give Mike a twenty, but mostly I just hung around and played chess (there were at least four chessboards in his garage, and the game was so popular that in the late afternoon there were eight people *guaranteed* playing the game, with others waiting in line to challenge the winners. There were never any organized tournaments (hey, everyone was high) but there were definitely champions).
I stopped pot after a while because, light as my habit was, I had noticed a definite decrease in long-term memory. (This was measured by how easily I could memorize a piece for the piano.) After a couple weeks of total abstinence, all my old powers came back.
This was actually a pretty creepy experience. As the THC got purged from my system, my brain actually started to produce spontaneous memories of things I had totally forgotten about years before. It was like my memory was saying: "Look, don't worry, dude! I was just kickin' it; I haven't eaten it." (I purposely use the idiom I thought in at the time.)