Written by Api Sulistyo
Translated by Tami Sulistyo
One day in the summer of 2002, a year and a half after I had moved to the United States after working in Singapore, on the way home from work, a bit after five pm, I turned into a company parking lot near my house and parked. I sat in the front seat of my little two-door car. Immediately I took out a cigarette from a pack that was already open and started smoking. After a day of not smoking, the first puff tasted very satisfying.
Suddenly, a few minutes later a security car came to me. A tall and large security guard interrogated me.
“What are you doing here,” he asked, or half-snapped.
“Smoking,” I answered, showing him a still burning cigarette.
“This is not a public parking lot. You’d better get out of here,” he commanded. He then watched me leave.
I stubbed out the cigarette and went out of the parking lot. I wondered why it was not allowed to be in that parking lot. Later I discovered that I was in the parking lot of Lockheed Martin, the company producing war equipment. The company no longer exists near where we live and its location has been turned into a shopping mall.
As a smoker at that time I promised myself not to smoke either near my workplace nor around the house. So, on the way home from work I often stopped at various parking lots or along the street to smoke cigarettes. I started smoking when I was in a high school in Indonesia. As there was no ban on smoking in schools, and no rules about minimum age to smoke, I used to smoke in any place and there was never any problem. I used to smoke at least a pack of cigarettes a day. Djarum Super cigarettes were my favorite. But if it was not available, Gudang Garam cigarettes were enjoyable too. In fact, one night in desperation I woke up my grandfather to ask for his ‘udud’ – a self-made cigarette my grandfather rolled on his own.
My local village friend was surprised when I told him that I wanted to quit smoking. “Men not smoking? Not manly,” he argued. It felt hard for me to explain that smoking is harmful to our health. I was afraid he would be offended. I did try to quit smoking in college and I was able to quit for over a year. However, the social community in Indonesia does not support quitting smoking. One night there was a party at my neighbor’s house. The older men of the village and I sat on a mat in the living room. During this ‘jagongan’, guests chat while enjoying a meal and a drink. And naturally they smoke too. This was the cultural norm.
“You want to smoke?” an older man offered his cigarette to me.
“Thank you, sir,” I said, nodding a little but I did not take his cigarette.
After being offered a second time, I reluctantly took a cigarette from a man who even lit it for me. I should have given an excuse and said something like I had a cough and did not want to smoke. That night I started smoking again after quitting for over a year.
In Indonesia there are about 57 million smokers, or approximately 34% of the population. By gender, 63% of men and 5% of women smoke. More than 180,000 people work at cigarette factories.
Second Class Citizens
As soon as my family and I settled in Minnesota, where my wife is from, I observed that not many people smoke. I would notice people gathered outside restaurants or outside the office, smoking. I learned that in the U.S., many people regard smokers as a nuisance and as agents of cancer because of second hand smoke that non-smokers breathe in when they are around those who are smoking.
For this reason, smokers seemed to be regarded by some almost as second-class citizens in the community. Information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that the smoke from cigarette smokers disturbs the health of both children and adults. The only way to protect nonsmokers is to ban smoking at home, in the workplace, and public places.
I began to decrease smoking, but was not able to quit completely. I hid cigarettes in my car, briefcase, garage, and other places. I wanted to get rid of cigarettes and stop smoking and the opportunity arrived in July 2005. On Sunday night, I was determined to quit smoking starting Monday morning.
That night I smoked in the garage while collecting all cigarettes and matches that I had hid. I do not remember how many cigarettes I smoked that night. My head was getting dizzy and my throat was hoarse. I was feeling sick and wanted to vomit. I squeezed out all packs of cigarettes and some matches/lighters. I tossed them into the trash can. Monday is trash day at our house. The garbage truck came to take the trash and recycling away from our house, which included my last cigarettes.
Starting that Monday in mid-July 2005 there has not been any cigarettes in my house. No cigarettes in the car or in a briefcase or in the garage. For more than ten years I have quit smoking and I feel healthier. The external pressure in the United States made it possible for me to quit smoking.
- When have you felt public disapproval towards you for doing something that to you was normal and acceptable? When have you shown disapproval of someone for something that they thought was fine behavior?
- When have you successfully kicked a bad habit or added a new positive habit that you have successfully kept long term? What was it that gave you the will power to change, how did you do it, and what have you done to make it last? How could you apply that to a change you know you need to make soon?
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Featured image is taken from this side:
No smoking sign is taken from google images.