Confessions of a smoker trying to quit

Warning: Reading this column may be hazardous to your health.
But I hope not.
I could empathize with President-elect Obama when reading about his “falling off the wagon” comment in response to being asked whether he had successfully quit smoking.
As a fellow on-again, off-again smoker, I could relate.
Like millions of others, I couldn’t begin to count how many times I have fallen off the wagon. The important thing, I suppose, is to keep climbing back on.
So, don’t worry, Mr. President-elect, you are not alone.
I started smoking (cigarettes as well as the “funny” kind) during my rebellious youth. I was probably about 15 when I started smoking. Hey, it was the ‘70s, that’s just what we did. Marlboro Lights still give me a flashback to my high school days.
But I kicked the smoking habit prior to my senior year of high school. I didn’t smoke another cigarette for probably 15 or 20 years.
Even then, it was only on rare occasion that I smoked.
But when I went through my divorce, I started smoking again. Smoking was like a comfort food. It calmed my nerves. It relaxed me.
And all along, I thought, if I want to quit, I can. No problem.
Boy, was I wrong.
Quitting smoking was hard. I don’t know how many times I said to myself, “OK, this is my last cigarette. Really. I mean it this time.”
When I started trying to quit, I could maybe go a few days without smoking. Then it stretched into weeks. Then months. Every now and then, though, I would give in.
If you’ve been a smoker, you know there are certain situations or times of day you associate with having a cigarette. I enjoyed having a cigarette with a cup of coffee, or after a meal, or if I was socializing with friends.
And smoking was a stress-reliever. For example, if I had a confrontation with my ex-wife over money or the kids, the first thing I would want to do is reach for a cigarette. It settled me down.
Neither of my parents was a smoker, ever. But both of my grandfathers were. My sister has been a smoker, too. And, like me, she’s quit, several times.
I have to admit, I enjoy tobacco. So, as an alternative to smoking cigarettes, I started smoking cigars (at least you don’t inhale those and they smell better). At the end of a long day, my “reward” is to unwind with a good cigar.
Any smoker will tell you he or she is aware there is a health hazard associated with smoking. Public education about the risks of smoking is so much better now than when I was growing up. Yet we all know people who smoked and lived to a ripe old age. As a cigar smoker, I can point to some of the famous cigar smokers — Winston Churchill, George Burns, Red Auerbach. They all lived a long life.
Then I think about my friend from high school who died of a brain aneurysm. She was 49. She never smoked. To me, it just goes to show, smoker, or non-smoker, we all have our “time” to go.
I’m sure, if you’ve never been a smoker, it’s hard to understand how difficult it can be to quit smoking. But if you are a “recovering” smoker, like me, it makes perfect sense.
I’ve known people who one day decided to quit, and that was it. They never smoked again.
I don’t have that much willpower. Because, like Mr. Obama, I have fallen off the wagon. I’ve made New Year’s resolutions. I’ve told people I was quitting, thinking that would make me more accountable. Yet, I don’t know how many times I have bought a pack of cigarettes, smoked five or six or seven cigarettes, and thrown away the rest of the pack. I’ve repeated that pattern countless times. It’s a waste of money, but at least it’s better than smoking the whole pack.
For me, quitting smoking is done incrementally, one step at a time, one day at a time. And, hopefully, the days will turn into weeks, then months, and so on.
So, Mr. President-elect, don’t despair. While non-smokers may question your resolve to stop smoking, people like me who know what it’s like to fall off the wagon can certainly relate to what you’re going through.
I’m pulling for you.
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Recently, I received a phone call from a woman in Meeker asking if I was aware if there had been any reports of seismic activity in the area.
“We felt something at our house,” said the woman, who lives on 12th Street. “I had totally spaced it out until a co-worker said she felt something major at her house, and another co-worker said she heard something at her house, not so much felt it.”
So, I checked with the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office to ask if there had been any reports of an earthquake. Undersheriff Mike Joos said, “Nothing I know about. Nobody has called us about it.”
Then I sent an e-mail to the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden. I received a response from John Bellini with the U.S. Geological Survey.
“We have not recorded any activity in that part of the state for some time,” Bellini said. “Your report is the only one we have heard from up there recently and have not detected anything as of late.”
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Rio Blanco County is waiting to hear whether the Colorado Supreme Court will hear its case with ExxonMobil involving collection of use tax on construction and building materials.
Officials estimate the potential impact to the county to be $10.3 million. The county has set aside the money in reserve, just in case.
“It’s my understanding, should the supreme court hear/review the county’s use tax case and find in favor of the county, that we do not have to refund any of the previously collected use tax revenues and the county can continue to collect use tax revenues on construction materials,” said County Administrator Pat Hooker. “The $11 million we have set aside in reserves will be available to the county to meet other expenditure needs.
“Should the supreme court not find in our favor, the county will be forced to look at other sources of potential revenue to make up this loss of use tax revenues,” Hooker said. “We’re anticipating hearing from the supreme court yet this month, if they will be hearing our case. Our outside legal counsel is still optimistic that the county will prevail in this case.”
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I was walking by the Meeker Hotel last Friday when I heard a tap at the window. It was Dessa Linsley, Rio Blanco County Extension agent, and she was wearing a wedding dress.
I had known Dessa was getting married, but I didn’t know when. So I went inside the hotel lobby and ended up taking some photos. Dessa was all smiles, as usual, and was thrilled it was snowing outside. Turns out she had wanted it to snow on her wedding day. She got her wish.
Congratulations to Dessa and her hubby, local rancher Brett Watson.
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Brett, I discovered later, is the brother of Rangely volleyball and girls’ basketball coach Jimmie Mergleman. I continue to be amazed at how everybody around here is related or connected, or so it seems.
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Bill Hawes, who has been collecting fossils in Rio Blanco County for 20 years, called me after I wrote a story about him for the newspaper.
“That was a good story,” he said. “You only got one thing wrong: my age. I am 58, not 56.”
Maybe he should have thanked me.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at