One million cigarette smokers have apparently given up since the start of lockdown. It’s like a massacre. (OK, arguably, the massacre is what would have happened if they had not given up.) I didn’t even know there were that many smokers left. The youngest were most likely to quit – about one in six of the 16- to 29-year-olds, which is coupled with the endearing hypothesis that a lot of them moved temporarily back in with their parents, who didn’t have a clue about their habit.
Anyway, if I had known about this, I never would have given up vaping. I hate feeling like a cliche. I hate it so much that this might be the excuse I need to take it up again, except that’s how everything feels. If I see a single crow fly past, I imagine what sad thing might happen that might justify my vaping again. If I see an elderly lady smoking a fag outside a restaurant, I think: “I should get a vape and go join her, in a gesture of sisterhood. Otherwise she might feel judged.” The pathetic inventiveness of my addiction is taking up so much of my brain that I’m surprised when other things work, such as that I’m still able to read. I just really, really love nicotine, and I have done since I was 14, which is a really, really long time.
My smoking journey is like anyone’s, only more so: cliche-plus. The first cigarette I ever tried was disgusting, and I always put this down to the fact that it was a Silk Cut, because every one subsequent to that was unbelievably delicious. There were years in my life when the only way I could have smoked more would have been by sleeping less. The tale of my giving up was Samuel Beckett’s homily writ huge: ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again, fail again, fail better.
I failed so well, and so often. I gave up drinking for months on end just to make it stick. Then, the first pint I had, I got through 20 Camel Lights so quickly, somebody thought I’d eaten them. I made a pact with a fellow quitter that the first of us to break would give the other £100, then casually got £110 out of the cashpoint, gave him his dues and lit my first cigarette.
Obviously I gave up fags when I got pregnant – the medical profession is super-uptight on this matter – and it more or less stuck, with a few exceptions for high stress and/or high spirits. When vape technology arrived, I was a social (ie, drunk) smoker.
Mr Z, likewise, smoked occasionally, and one day announced with some aplomb, like a man who is shortly to be confirmed a genius, that there was no need to smoke any more: technology had superseded it. We each got a proto-vape, a little bit steampunk, a little bit sonic screwdriver, and after that, we vaped constantly. We walked around in a tobacco-scented cloud. People called us the attack of the vapers. We became experts in the tech, flavour aficionados.
We switched to a more Terminator aesthetic. I looked as if I had an external battery growing out of my hand, maybe owing to the fact that I never put it down. Part of me was happy to carry on like this until my deathbed, concentrating on the news stories that called vaping harmless (how could it harm you? It’s water vapour), ignoring the ones that said maybe it killed you (pah, that’s just if you put cannabis in).
Another part of me, though, was ashamed: whichever way you cut it, it was pretty egocentric. I did it everywhere – on the tube, in Pizza Express, in offices, in people’s houses before I had checked with them, because if they said “no”, I would have had to leave. I accidentally vaped on Sky news. I would forget to mute myself on calls and the noise I gave off would make no sense, like a bronchial Darth Vader taking an extra-deep breath before his oxygen ran out. It was completely moot whether I was allowed to vape in particular situations, because I was going to vape anyway – so I always looked furtive, like a person with a hip flask, except billowing vapour. Mr Z had better self-control than me, and I even embarrassed him, my partner in crime.
So when I dropped my kit on some stone steps, and the glass chamber cracked, and I had no spare, and it was 10pm, I took that as a sign. This love affair was over. And now it’s six days later (three hours of hell, three days of torture, three weeks of agony, they say, though I find these gradations a bit vague) and the only thing keeping me on this path is the knowledge that I never want to live those days again, the restlessness, the roaming, the world being not enough, like Lawrence of A-bloody-rabia, except nobody would have told him to stop vaping.
My daughter, shamer-in-chief – who bought me a T-shirt for my birthday saying “Moms against vaping”, explaining that she couldn’t find one that read “Against moms vaping”, because normal moms don’t vape – hasn’t noticed.