Did you not choose a resolution for the New Year? Then I have a good one for you!
• Cigarette smoke kills more than 5 million deaths per year worldwide.
• Cigarette smoking costs the U.S. more than $193 billion dollars every year.
• Secondhand smoke costs more than $10 billion dollars annually.
• For every person who dies from a smoking-related disease, 20 more are affected by at least one illness or disease directly attributed to the use of tobacco.
• Tobacco use is the #1 preventable cause of death.
• Tobacco shortens a user’s life by a full 10 years.
If you are not a smoker, then talk to a smoker, talk to a family member who smokes. Smoking kills more people than AIDS, drunk driving or breast cancer. And we are voluntarily doing it to ourselves.
Smokers are now saying, “Yeah, but it’s not that easy to quit smoking.”
Here’s where my Tobacco Nazi comes out and says, “Quitting smoking is easier than being dead.”
Maybe my tactic is harsh but parents quitting cigarettes is important to me – and even more important to their children. I was once a smoker myself and have lost too many family members and friends to early death directly attributed to smoking cigarettes. People often ask me how I managed quit smoking and I bore them to death with my cold-turkey reply but that is only half the story. The real challenge is in finding motivation. Here is my story:
Growing up in a tobacco-growing state, my parents used to tell us ‘don’t smoke’ while smoke curled from their cigarettes. They were saying, ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say.’ Any child will pay more attention to the example than the warning. My parents had no clue how to keep us from picking up tobacco. The times we were caught we were whipped or made to eat cigarettes that had been ripped open in hopes we would learn a lesson.
By the time I was 30 I wanted to quit smoking tobacco but was addicted to the sudden high, the little rush you get from each puff. A heavy feeling in my chest made me want to quit even more. Each year I got my chest x-ray and when it would come back clear I gave a sigh of relief that I had dodged another cancer bullet. I tried to quit cold turkey several times and enlisted the help of family and friends in hopes that I would be successful. I used the popular nicotine gum and it helped but caused ulcers in my mouth and I still smoked. I got the nicotine patch and closely followed instructions every day but when I ran into a friend who also smoked, all my progress would fly out the window.
This was not going to be easy and the struggle was just beginning. Each failed attempt to quit smoking would send me into depression and wreak havoc with my self-esteem. What was the matter with me that I could not quit smoking? I proved to myself that I could do many things: build things, fix things, hold important positions, complete tasks for my community, use my knowledge to help people and manage a household. Was I missing something?
After I developed asthma and began having allergy issues it became more important for me to continue trying to quit. Each asthma attack became worse and more serious and some included hospitalizations. Again, each time I failed and reached for the next cigarette my self-esteem plummeted. I could almost envision my own death in the near future.
In May of 1996, my mother telephoned to give me bad news – her annual chest x-ray came back with a large mass in her lungs near her heart. She was upset and crying that her doctor yelled at her, “Margaret, I told you to quit smoking – you wouldn’t listen!” I hung up the phone; I was numb and swore never to touch another cigarette.
Later that same night I took the dog outside in the rain and cried … and then lit up another cigarette. I needed that rush – to ‘calm my nerves’ or to ‘think better’ or ‘to relax.’ When a smoker is struggling to quit there are a million excuses for the next cigarette.
Rain adds mold spores to the air and that can be a serious trigger for asthmatics like me. Standing in the rain that night set a chain of events in motion that almost killed me but ended up doing exactly the opposite. I could barely breathe and stayed up most of the night. In the morning I could not breathe enough to walk on my own so I asked my husband to take me to the hospital. He gathered my things and woke the children and told them we were going to the hospital and that he would be back soon. He picked me up like a 150-pound rag doll to carry me out the door.
Katie was ten years old at the time and came to the kitchen doorway to see us off. I looked around to say good-bye and saw Katie standing there in her pajamas. I cannot explain the look on her face except to say that it was sheer terror. She was afraid for me – she knew how bad my attack was this time. Fighting back tears, Katie waved good-bye.
On the way to the hospital I couldn’t get Katie and that scene out of my head. That look conveyed fear in a way that changed something in me and I knew I would never touch another cigarette. The dynamics had changed, it wasn’t just about me any longer – it was about my children. I had found my motivation at last.
At the hospital, my husband filled out the paperwork and I was admitted. The doctor arrived and looked over the chart and began asking questions about medicines and my history. He asked me if I was a smoker and I told him ‘no.’ He asked when I quit smoking and I answered quickly, ‘yesterday.’ He looked at me through bushy eyebrows… then began to give me instructions.
That was not the end of the story. True to my vow, I never smoked another cigarette – ever. My husband wanted to throw away the last cigarettes in the house and I would not let him. I told him I needed temptation present in order to beat it for the last time. Occasionally, I would take a cigarette out and smell the unlit tobacco. It smelled wonderful! But I liked other smells better: Freshly shampooed hair, clean clothes and fresh breath. Over time I got rid of all the tobacco smell from everything around me. Months later, when I flossed my teeth I could still taste those disgusting cigarettes. Over time, the smell of cigarette smoke in the air or on other people became nauseating to me. I would pick up a favorite book and as I flipped the pages the stale tobacco odor was evident. I’ve often heard that ex-smokers are the worst and that may be right.
You might be wondering about my mother. Mom went for radiation treatment for the tumors. She became weak and spent much of the time throwing up. She died a horrible death barely five months after breaking the news. The cancer had grown partially around her heart, squeezing the life out of her. Even on her very last days on earth she was so addicted to cigarettes that another person would have to light and hold it for her. As soon as she would inhale her first puff she would begin coughing, choking and crying until she was dazed. Not a very pretty sight for someone as concerned about her appearance as she was. That is how strong the addiction is.
If only other parents could find the same motivation that I found in my daughter’s face. Everyone has to reach bottom, though, in order to find their own solution to smoking addiction. Now electronic cigarettes are supposed to be the latest and greatest gadget to use for ending tobacco use and debates and bans are already occurring over safety. Oh well, one step at a time.
If you or someone you know is struggling with tobacco addiction you need only look on the internet to find resources. There is information, support groups and other resources to attempt another try. Now that the New Year is upon us I would like you to think about these things:
• Tobacco companies continue to target younger consumers.
• Tobacco companies target minority groups and the poor.
• Tobacco companies have increased their overseas markets since the numbers of smokers have dwindled in the U.S. from what it was years ago.
• Women tend to become more addicted than men.
• The younger a person begins to smoke, the stronger the addiction.
• Most likely with age come illness, disability and financial hardship.
• Smokers may need to spend money needed for children’s college on their own health needs: Inhalers, medications, walkers, wheelchairs, hospitalizations, emergency room visits.
• Cigarette smoke wrinkles skin and creates ‘smoker’s mouth.’
The sooner a smoker stops, the sooner they will begin to reap the non-smoker benefits.
If I can do it, you can do it!
The Reminder is offering a free eBook that has information on not smoking. Never Take Another Puff (222 Pages) If you are interested in receiving this free eBook, go to my website and send me a message on the contact form.
Jackie Saulmon Ramirez has served as a volunteer with Parents Anonymous® of New Jersey, Inc. for more than twenty years, giving and getting support. Find her at her contact page.