Emily Lund: The First Time I Didn’t Smoke a Cigarette

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As a child, I was fascinated/horrified by my grandmother’s smoking, the smell of her house, her clothes, her car and quite frankly, the smell of her.  Grandmas can smell weird to a child anyway, but when you add a two pack daily habit of Salems to the fragrance mix, smells get really scary.  I vowed early on to never smoke a cigarette because (1) cancer (2) I never wanted to smell bad like my grandma and her house.

I was not easily influenced by my peer groups, so this vow was pretty easy to keep.  I suppose I looked down on the smokers as they were not as classy as the non-smokers.  However, I secretly envied them as well.  They had bravery about them I did not.  They threw caution to the wind.  They were rebels.  I was not, but I sort of wanted to be.  Ultimately, I was too scared I’d be killed instantly from lung cancer, by my parents if they found out, or by accidentally setting my hair on fire.  So, I stayed away from smoking until one day when I found myself at smoking grandma’s house.

As a side note, my parents hated their children and refused to allow us to have cable since it was better we read books and play outside.  Luckily, smoking grandma had cable, and I could catch up on what everyone else in the world was talking about by visiting her house after school.  Smoking grandma would pick me up, and I would stay at her house until I needed to be transported to my next after school activity.  I would immediately head to her bedroom to focus on the task at hand…MTV.  One day whilst slowly rocking back and forth to the subtle waves of my grandmother’s waterbed and while committing all of MJ’s Beat It dance moves to memory, I spotted a pack of cigarettes on my grandma’s dresser.

I decided she probably wouldn’t notice if I took one out of the pack.  I figured I could take one home, go deep into the woods (there goes my fire safety training) and smoke the cigarette.  I did wonder why everyone was doing it and what the draw was.  I decided I would only smoke one cigarette in my whole life, just to know what it was about.  I had heard tell of people choking and coughing and throwing up, so I was concerned it would be a terrible experience. I did internally debate the decision but in the end, I decided it was still something I needed to experience.   I was wearing jeans and had to really work to keep the cigarette in my front jean pocket without breaking it while walking.  I also had to make sure the cigarette was not spotted.  All of this was a logistical nightmare, but I managed to make it through my grandma’s house, to play practice, home in my mom’s car and to my bedroom without anyone knowing I had an actual whole cigarette on my person.

While my parents were upstairs, I snuck out of the house with my extremely smashed and crumpled cigarette.  We didn’t have any lighters in the house and so I was forced to use a book of matches for my smoking escapade.  I walked as far away as I could while still keeping sight of the house in case my mother came near.

Although I had pulled off a miracle of getting a cigarette into my house unbroken, I could not for the life of me figure out how to light a cigarette using matches.  Apparently, the concept of holding the cigarette in my mouth whilst lighting it escaped me completely. I couldn’t use the matches and hold the cigarette in my hand at the same time.  Since I only had a short amount of time to accomplish the task, I panicked.  I lit the match and dropped the cigarette.  I lit another match and burnt my fingers.  All in all, I was failing miserably as a smoker.  Time ran out as I heard my mother calling for dinner.  I put the cigarette back in my pocket, palmed the matches and moved on with the rest of my life.

Now, here’s the part that confuses even me.  I decided that I would not smoke the cigarette, and that I wasn’t really that interested in the experience after all. I just gave up on the whole idea.  Maybe I was looking at my lighting failure as a sign from baby Jesus (he hates smoking)? Maybe I really didn’t think I’d ever be able to figure out how to light a cigarette? Whatever the case, I was not going to smoke.  But now, my next problem, what to do with the cigarette?! If I threw it away, my mom might see it.  No one in my house smoked, so she would know it was mine.  My only option (nope, not one other possible option) was to return the cigarette to my smoking grandma’s pack the next day after school.  Of course, this would mean carrying the cigarette with me all day during school.  Cigarettes were not allowed on school grounds so I would have to really work at concealing this.   I walked around all day at school with a smashed, muddy and somewhat broken Salem hidden in my pocket. Thankfully, I was not caught and saw this as another success in my adventure.

As I reached my grandma’s bedroom that day, I quietly headed back to her bedroom and back to the latest pack of cigarettes on her dresser.  I opened it and realized there was only 1 cigarette missing.  Although, panicking was a real thing at that point, I remained calm; I had made it through worse with this cigarette.  I decided that I had no choice but to put my crumpled stick back in the only open spot and hope my grandma didn’t remember she had already smoked one.

I have no idea what happened to that cigarette or what smoking grandma thought when she pulled that one out of the box.  I imagine she would have called Salem directly and complained to quality control about the product she found.  Maybe she just smoked it, or maybe she threw it out.  Whatever she did, she never mentioned it to me, and she continued to smoke her two packs a day for a few years after.

Years later, in my twenties and after drinking in Spain, a friend dared me to smoke a cigarette.  For whatever reason, I obliged her with one inhale.  I actually swallowed instead of inhaled and immediately got in a cab, puked all inside the cab, got out of the cab and walked home.  It most certainly did not live up to my expectations, and I never smoked a cigarette again.  Since I’m almost 40, I assume I’m not going to have the urge to take up smoking now, plus I don’t think they make Salems anymore.  However, if I do (smoking grandma took up smoking at age 40, so it’s possible), I’ll remember that you can light a cigarette with matches, but you do have to hold the cigarette in your mouth to do so.



  1. OMG, Emily……this made me pee my pants 😄 Knowing you as I do makes it even more hilarious. Yes, your parents were “just awful!” No cable. Your Mom, a librarian, wanting you to read books……imagine that 😄 So, I just have to ask…..maternal or paternal grandmother?

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