Last week, I was standing in line at Walgreen's, where I often bought cigs because they were cheaper than at the convenience stores. Yes, they still have a wall of many brands displayed right behind the counter. Their were two other customers in front of me and a couple in line behind me. Seeing that wall of cigarettes isn't a trigger for me anymore, thank God. But when the girl in front of me (around 20 years old, I guess) stepped up to the clerk, she placed her items on the counter and when the clerk asked "Is there anything else?" she asked for a couple of packs of her brand. And she seemed almost embarassed when she said it.
It hit me that that's how I felt the last few years I was an active smoker. For years it never bothered me to buy cigs; I might as well have been buying Advil or a package of gum. But these last few years, when I was in the position that that girl was, I was very aware that the other customers in line noticed. Every time I was at that same counter buying cigs it was as if I was declaring, "I'm an addict." Of course, that didn't stop me from buying them. I found myself sometimes trying to keep the conversation with the clerk light, as if to distract from my action which admitted that I was, in fact, that addict.
I also remember other places where I bought cigs on a regular basis, often enough that the clerk had a pack of my brand waiting for me at the counter. I used to appreciate that. As a closet smoker I didn't want to attract too much attention to my purchase. But I cringed one time, about two years before I quit, when one of those clerks at the convenience store, a smoker herself, called from across the aisle to the person who was manning the counter, "He wants a pack of Marlboro Lights." Everybody in the store could hear that I was one of THOSE people, an addict who comes here to buy his cigs on a regular basis. The last few years before I quit I felt almost apologetic and embarassed to buy cigarettes. But the need I felt overcame that sense of shame every time. I am so glad to be free of that stigma, that embarassment, that shame. I feel sorry for that girl at Walgreens, because I know exactly how she must feel.