Tribute to Women Smokers in Quebec, Part 1

(by Randall, 22 July 2006)

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Tribute to Women Smokers in Quebec - Part 1
by Randall

(On May 30, 2006, a law came into effect banning smoking in all indoor public
places, including restaurants and bars. Years before, most smoking in malls
had disappeared, but a few mall restaurants and coffee shops held on until
the very last day. The following is a tribute ... an appreciation ... of the
women from all walks of life who made their favorite mall coffee shops their
headquarters for smoking breaks. It may be the last place in Quebec where
such a diverse group of women would meet together to share their love and/or
addiction to smoking. These profiles are composites of women I have seen
smoking in one of two of these smoking spots. The visual descriptions are as
accurate as I can recall. The "histories" are artistic license.)

Yvette 35 years old, Yvette is married with two teenaged children, 12 and 15
years of age. Yvette is slim and tall, a well-dressed attendant at a high-end
women's clothing store. An hour before her store opens at 9:00 AM, she buys a
coffee and a muffin and sits down to begin her day. Yvette has the appearance
of an educated, professional woman, befitting her work with style-conscious
shoppers. Her blonde hair is perfectly arranged in a bun. Her makeup is
tastefully and professionally applied. She looks like she could be a business
woman or an attorney. At the same time, she has a down-to-earth air about
her. After eating her muffin, and while chatting with coworkers who have
joined her, she pulls her knitting from a copious shoulder bag. It isn't
long, though, before she also remove her pack of Benson & Hedges and a
disposable Bic lighter. She lights her cigarette calmly and casually, without
any appearance of desperation. Her inhales are full and strong, but she
certainly doesn't devour her cigarette. She holds in her smoke for 5 seconds
or so, and exhales in a full, straight line from her mouth. She never dangles
her cigarette, but either holds it elegantly between her index and second
finger, or leaves it in the ashtray while she knits. She talks with her
friends mostly about her husband and children, or sometimes about her work at
the store.

She started smoking relatively late in life, at age 20. Her boyfriend at the
time was a smoker, and she simply began smoking to join him in socializing.
She is addicted now, (she notices it if she has to skip her usual break times
due to customers, and feels physical relief when she finally is able to light
up), but probably would have little difficulty quitting. She smokes maybe 5
cigarettes a day at home, and makes moderate efforts not to smoke in front of
her children, although she doesn't keep her smoking a secret from them.
However, between her morning coffee and chat, her lunch break, and her 3:00
PM break, she smokes around 10 more cigarettes "at work". In fact, this is
probably the main reason she keeps smoking. It is a pivotal element of her
breaks, and an important part of the social connections she has forged with
coworkers and other friends who work at other stores in the mall and meet her
every day while taking their own smoke breaks. She feels that one day she
will quit smoking, but is in no hurry to do so, even though she is fully
aware of the danger smoking poses to her health. In fact, she often reflects
on the fact that while she now watches what she eats, and exercises
moderately every day, she's probably sabotaging these efforts towards good
health by intentionally continuing to smoke, despite the fact that she could
fairly easily quit. She has considered what she will do if her 12 year old
daughter takes an interest in smoking. She would like to prevent it, but has
resolved not to fight it too hard if the time comes, because she values the
good and open relationship she has with both of her children, who, after all,
are good students who so far have given her and her husband little trouble.
If she thought about it that much, she would probably say that she doesn't
consider smoking to be indicative of a teen "going bad".

Adrienne Adrienne is 18 years old, and in her first job, working at the same
women's clothing store as Yvette. She is a high school graduate, and is
thinking about continuing her education in a year or so. However, she was
never much of a student, and is happy enough to have a decent job in a
pleasant atmosphere, among nice and supportive coworkers. Adrienne is 5'6"
tall, and has long, straight brown hair, which she wears in a pony tail about
half the time, and loose the other half. She has porcelain skin, and strong,
but well-groomed eyebrows. Her friends consider her to be pretty, but none of
them would say that she was especially sexy or provocative, since she doesn't
really go for youthful styles of dress or makeup.

She started this job six months ago. At that time, she had been smoking off
and on for about a year. She considered herself a "social smoker", (a phrase
she once heard a friend use), and only smoked when she went out drinking with
friends ... itself a new experience as she had recently turned 18. In the
first couple of weeks on the job, she gradually began taking coffee and
having lunch with Yvette and her other friends at the coffee shop / bistro
around the corner from her store. Around the end of her second week, the
group was discussing smoking for some reason. Although everyone in the group
smoked when they got together, they rarely spoke of it directly. It was just
something they did. One day, one of the women asked Adrienne if she minded
sitting with a bunch of smokers every day. She paused a moment, and then
said, "No, it's okay. I smoke sometimes, myself. But only when I'm out with
friends." Yvette shot her a surprised look, (was it shock or just surprise?),
but didn't say anything. Marie, an older member of the group (probably in her
mid 40s) asked Adrienne if she'd like to have a cigarette. Again, she
hesitated, then said, "Okay, yes, thank you." Marie began pulling out one of
her Export A Mediums, and Yvette spoke up, saying, "No, Adrienne. Don't take
one of those, they're way too strong! Have one of mine." She offered Adrienne
one of her Benson & Hedges Special Lights. Adrienne accepted it, remarked on
the different box design, and said that she wasn't familiar with the brand.
"They're lighter, not for hard-core smokers like Marie." Everyone laughed,
including Marie, who had just taken a triple drag from her 5th cigarette in
20 minutes. Adrienne put the cigarette in her mouth, steadying it still
between her fingers as her best friend had once taught her to do. She bent
and accepted a light from Yvette. As she took her first drag, Adrienne felt a
little excitement, which reminded her of her first few times smoking. This
was different. She still felt like a kid, and these women were clearly
adults. In fact, all 5 women had stopped talking, and sat still, looking at
her, holding their own cigarettes still. Adrienne was a little
self-conscious, but she finished her drag, inhaled the smoke, and after a
couple of seconds, delivered as smooth and full an exhale as she could
manage. As she always did, she watched the smoke intently, and aimed it into
the light of the recessed ceiling lap over their table, unconsciously aiming
for the most visible and "experienced" looking exhale she could. The 5 women
said nothing, but smiled. "It's good?" asked Yvette, and after taking another
drag and exhaling it, Adrienne said, "Mmmm, yes. It is! Much milder than what
I usually smoke ... duMaurier. The 5 women nodded, knowingly. "Yes, they're
fairly strong, unless they're lights," one of the women said. "But they
aren't too bad once you get used to smoking." Nothing more was said about
this turn of events, and the group resumed their conversation. Adrienne
smoked the rest of her cigarette all the way to the butt, noting to herself
that she usually ends up putting out her cigarettes well before finishing.
The milder smoke was noticeably easier to take. Still feeling a little
self-conscious, she contributed little to the conversation, concentrating
instead on her feelings about "coming out" with smoking in front of women she
saw as adults, but also noticing that the women seemed to make very little of
the fact that she was smoking.

For the next three weeks, Adrienne had one or two cigarettes each day with
"the girls", either accepting or asking for one from the women each time. She
tried a few different kinds. Then, about a week ago, she surprised everyone
by taking her own pack of cigarettes out of her purse along with everyone
else. It was a pack of Export A Mild. Everyone noticed this. Yvette, looking
a bit concerned, said, "Oh, I hope we haven't gotten you hooked!" Adrienne
blushed a little, and said, "Well, I don't know. I just figured if I'm going
to smoke, I'd better buy my own. I have been smoking awhile you know ... at
least a year." ("Why did I add that little excuse?" she asked herself).
Yvette grimaced a little, thinking that a year isn't very long at all. But
the others accepted Adrienne's explanation. Adrienne lit up and took a deep
drag ... deeper than the women had ever seen her take. Adrienne had that
weekend found herself smoking quite a lot while out with her friends, and
after buying her first pack. That day, she smoked three cigarettes at lunch,
and also joined the group for three more at her afternoon break. Since then,
she has been smoking 10 or 12 cigarettes a day with the group. Also, although
she hasn't mentioned this to the older women, she finally confessed to her
mother, with whom she still lives, that she was a smoker. Her mother went
through a couple of days being angry with her, but as a smoker herself,
couldn't justify staying mad, and in any case never tried to forbid her grown
daughter from smoking. Adrienne felt more accepted in the group of older
women now. Among her friends, her improving smoking style was beginning to be
noticed, even by friends who had started smoking a year or more before her.
And last evening, meeting a friend of a friend for the first time, she
answered the girl's question, "Do you smoke?", by replying, "Yes. I'm a
smoker". For some reason, these words echoed in her head for hours
afterwards. She realized that she'd never uttered those words before, and
also realized that she liked how they sounded.

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