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Every Two Hours, I Make a Choice Not to Smoke

Every Two Hours, I Make a Choice Not to Smoke

I remember the first time: it was a beautiful fall day, walking with a new college friend. It was bold, rebellious, forbidden and … surprisingly good.  I remember the last time: a warm summer evening this past June, about 9 pm. I was ready. It was time.

So I took one last deep breath, held it and then stubbed out my final cigarette after more than four decades of smoking. What a relief. I am finally going to do this.

I’ve tried quitting so many times I finally quit quitting. I’d go cold turkey for a few weeks or months, and then say, “just this one” in a moment of stress, or as a reward or after an especially fine meal.

I knew even before I started that it was bad for me. As a kid, I had convinced my parents nearly 50 years ago to quit—even though I could still sing the Winston cigarette jingle. I grew up watching the Surgeon General’s reports, saw the gruesome photos of cancerous lungs, remember an uncle who died an agonizing death. I lit that first cigarette offered by a friend anyway. Life would never be the same.

I imagine every current or former smoker—or anyone with an addiction—can tell a similar story. I patiently withstood the criticism of my wife, family, friends, colleagues, co-workers and strangers who would glare at me on the street. I was still rebellious. I resented their admonitions and disapproval. Shaming me into quitting didn’t work or didn’t motivate me, in fact it made me more stubborn. Every two hours—the duration of the nicotine in my system—I lit up again. For years, I smoked a pipe. Cigars were saved for fishing or around a camp fire. I loved and cursed every puff, knowing full well that it could kill me.

A year ago, for many reasons, I decided to cut back. I joined a gym, started working out and began walking more. I was somewhat winded, but kept at it. I actually felt better. As a reward, I’d light up after a good workout. Go figure. Finally, at my annual physical on June 1, I told my provider I really wanted to quit. She encouraged me to really do it this time.

I got an immediate appointment at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H) to work with Betsy Maislen, APRN, CTTS-M, who runs the D-H Tobacco Treatment Clinic. We talked about why I smoked, why I wanted to quit, what smoking was doing to me and how I could stop. She explained that nicotine is more addictive than crack cocaine. She prescribed a medication, we set a quit date. I was at first miserable, restlessly gnawing on cinnamon sticks as a substitute—a spice I now truly dislike. The side-effect nightmares of the medication were wonderful, awesome and terrible.

I’m now smoke free. I didn’t think I could do it. I quit drinking in 1994. I simply stopped. This has been much, much harder—probably the most difficult thing I have ever done. Every two hours, I still make a choice not to smoke.

It’s getting easier. I had to change my habits. When I finish a task, I reward myself with a hot cup of tea or a quick walk, not a quick smoke. I go to the gym more often, walk longer, breath deeper. I feel better, and I don’t smell like an ash tray.

I’m ashamed it took me so long to quit. I’m horrified at the money and time wasted, angry about being addicted so others could make a profit and I grieve about the toll smoking will eventually take on my life.

If you are a smoker and are considering quitting—or even if you’re not quite ready to quit—consider having a conversation with Betsy. Call 5-8537 to arrange an appointment. I found that getting support is really helpful, especially when I tried to quit nicotine, a highly-addictive substance. 

What have you got to lose?