My first cigarette

For many young people, the chance to experiment is a key part of their teenage years. It is a time to smoke, take drugs and drink alcohol for the first time. People can enjoy these products once, occasionally, or take them more frequently. However, that first time is the most important-it is a rite of passage, and a totally new experience. Significant numbers of young people take drugs, smoke tobacco and drink alcohol frequently, but smoking a cigarette-or knowing someone who has-is an experience the vast majority can relate to. My first cigarette was aged 18, while at University. The decision to smoke for the first time was prompted by a number of things: firstly, my desire to try new and ‘more adult’ experiences, perhaps combined with a little peer pressure-very few fellow students didn’t smoke, so it was commonplace to regularly be around a smoking environment.

Secondly, as a ‘lightweight’ when drinking alcohol, I realised there had to be something I could tolerate and consume with more frequency. I found the answer was a combination of both cannabis and cigarettes, although mostly cigarettes during this period. Finally, I felt I had to experience what cigarettes tasted like because traditionally I had lacked a rebellious streak-something many others at University had in spades-and I felt a need to engage with different aspects of my personality. I do not remember my first cigarette very well, but I recall being shocked that prices were so high-I didn’t get much change from a £10 note. I had started smoking much later than my fellow students, many of whom had smoked since school. 

As an occasional smoker throughout my time at University, I realised I didn’t need a regular fix-I would only smoke with friends or at the pub, and many times smoking cigarettes to prevent waking up the following morning in an alcohol-induced slumber. As time went on, I was spending more money on cigarettes-perhaps the clearest indication needed as to why all my friends smoked roll-ups. Nevertheless, I ploughed on, often using them as a substitute for initiating conversational topics and bravery that I had formerly based on alcohol alone-I was not good at engaging in conversation while continuing to drink more than I was used to. My last regular cigarette came as I approached the end of my studies. A number of factors played a part-the continuing cost of cigarettes, the attempts of friends aiming to quit smoking themselves, and increasing family commitments meant money and time spent smoking had to cease.

The hysteria that surrounds smoking-particularly so in some sections of the media-did not affect me, and it didn’t affect my friends. Smoking a cigarette for the first time is a carefree moment, enjoyed by young people as they seek a taste of something unknown. It can also symbolise freedom from home, and financial freedom from parental prudence. It enabled me to begin the journey to adulthood, and was the right decision for me. I could control how many cigarettes I smoked-if I wanted fewer or more, the only barrier was a financial one-issues surrounding willpower were never an issue. I found it easy to quit smoking, and wouldn’t hesitate in telling young people that experimentation is an essential part of life; whatever their substances of choice, people should be free to choose whether or not they take them-and importantly, be able to understand exactly what they’re taking.