The word ex-smoker is used to describe a person who quit smoking. Alas, the word is a misnomer.

Smoking is a result of addiction to nicotine, a drug said to be more addictive than heroin.

Yet, we never hear someone admitting to being an ex-heroin addict, or a heroin ex-addict. Rather, they admit to having a heroin addiction, or a heroin problem. They are well aware that just because they stopped using heroin does not mean they are no longer addicted to it.

Similarly, I have never met anyone referring to himself as an ex-alcoholic. But I did meet many people who call themselves alcoholics even after they have been dry for years. Yet, alcohol is less addictive than nicotine. Only a certain percentage of people become alcoholics, while most of us can have an occasional drink without ever getting addicted to alcohol.

Nicotine addiction is no different in this regard. It is easy for a non-smoker to become a smoker: In most cases all he needs to do is smoke one cigarette.

But it is a one-way road: A smoker cannot become a non-smoker. That is not to say a smoker cannot stop smoking. All I am saying is that stopping smoking does not turn one back to the same state one was before that first cigarette.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a strange stigma about being a smoker. Thus, typically, the person who stopped smoking will call himself an ex-smoker, or even a non-smoker, though he is neither. This helps such persons to disassociate themselves from the group carrying the stigma (indeed, often they become strongly anti-smoking).

The person who stopped smoking (even if he never smokes again) is still a smoker, just as an alcoholic who stopped drinking alcohol is still an alcoholic.

I have quit smoking four times in my life, always for quite a long while. The third time it was for nine years. The first three times I fell into the trap of thinking of myself as an ex-smoker, or even a non-smoker.

Strangely enough, the thought of being an ex-smoker was not always a happy one. It offered the illusion of finality: I used to be a smoker, but no longer am one, and never will be one again.

Oh, sure, most of the time that was a happy thought. But any time I was reminiscing, the idea was depressing: I shall never smoke again. Why, oh, why?

In retrospect, I believe this thought of finality was one of the reasons that I eventually said to hell with it, and started smoking again.

The third time I quit, the thought of never smoking again was so frightening that I made myself a firm promise that if I ever feel like wanting to smoke, I will ask myself whether I really want to become a smoker again (I knew well by then that if I smoked even one puff, I'd be back to smoking), I would go out, buy a carton of cigarettes and light up, no matter what time of day it was.

That helped me quit the third time. That also meant that for the following nine years I was craving for a cigarette every single day, always deciding that while it would be nice to have a cigarette, I did not want to become a smoker again.

But after nine years, I finally decided I wanted to be a smoker again. It was only for a brief moment: I really did not have that desire by the time I was at the drug store. But, as a good boy scout, I had to keep my word. I bought a carton, and lit up. And kept lighting up for nine more years. Until I stopped for the fourth time, which was only four and a half months ago.

Strange. Had I realized then what I realize now, perhaps I would not have returned to smoking after nine years. Or perhaps I would, I do not know. But the fact is: I did not have to light up to become a smoker again. I was a smoker all those nine years. Indeed, I was a smoker ever since I lit up my first cigarette the day after my high school graduation.

By the way, the first three times I quit, I always did it because someone else kept bugging me about it and I gave in.

The fourth time, the one four and a half months ago, was completely different.

First of all, I simply decided to quit at the spur of a moment. I was surprised by that decision. I had truly enjoyed smoking those last nine years. I even convinced myself that I had reached the point of no return, that it was no longer possible for me to quit. That, of course, is an urban myth. If anything, I already had some practice: I had done it three times before, so I knew what to expect. I also knew it was quite possible. Four days later, I smoked my last remaining cigarette.

Did I enjoy that last one? Yes, I did! Was I unhappy about it being "the last one"? Not at all!

How is that possible?

Quite simple: I did not fool myself into thinking of myself as an ex-smoker, let alone a non-smoker. I did not decide that I quit forever. Nor did I decide that I did not quit forever. Finally, I made myself no promises. What the heck for? I certainly do not have to do anything to become a smoker. I am a smoker. I admit to it.

And guess what: For the first time in my life (since I became a smoker) I have gone through four and a half months without a cigarette and without craving for a cigarette. I make no promises. Not to myself, not to others. I am an adult. If I ever decide to become active, so be it. Ironically, that seems to be the exact reason why I am not "active".

Strangely enough, smoke does not bother me. I mean I do prefer smoke-free air, but I can walk through a smoke-filled area without getting angry at "those smokers". Hey, I am a smoker, how can I get angry at "them"?

What I am angry at is the cigarette companies that use all kinds of tricks to get youngsters to light up. I also get annoyed by anti-smoking propaganda on TV.

So, yes, I am a smoker. And I have been smoke-free and desire-free for four and a half months.

The analogy of ex-smoker and alcoholic mentioned by whizkid is not entirely correct, since alcoholism is technically a disease, whereas smoking is an addiction. 'Drinker' is analogous to 'smoker'; perhaps 'ex-smoker' should be analogous to 'alcoholic who does not drink'.

'Heroinism' is defined as 'an addiction to heroin', and so could be placed in the same category as an addiction to nicotine (although 'nicotinism' refers to nicotine poisoning). However, in this case I believe that the differing terms are due to the usual danger to health in heroin withdrawal symptoms; if nicotine withdrawal were as serious, you might hear more people saying that they had a 'nicotine problem' or a 'cigarette problem'.

I still agree with the overall point of whizkid's writeup however; admitting that you were once a smoker and always will be can be helpful, despite the unconventional terminology.

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