How I Quit Smoking: The Story of a Heavy Smoker
My Journey With Smoking
Giving up cigarettes is one of the most successful things I have ever done in my life. Prior to June of 1995, I thought I would be hooked on nicotine and cigarettes until the end of my life. Smoking seemed like such a necessary and permanent habit—just like eating and sleeping. How could I stop after 28 years?
Well, I did quit and begin the third chapter of my life. In this article I recollect my early life before starting to smoke, life as a smoker, how and why I quit smoking, and my current life as an ex-smoker.
Life Before Smoking
Although I was born and grew up in the family of a smoker, I never had an interest or desire to smoke when I was young. My dad was a smoker, but he rarely smoked in the house in front of my sisters and me. My mother never smoked, and although many of my uncles and aunts smoked, I never saw them that much. I guess you can say that I was mostly in a non-smoking environment through the end of high school. There were kids in high school who did smoke, but I never hung out with them. After I went away to college, I never really lived or associated that much with smoking friends. There was absolutely no peer pressure or temptation for me to get started smoking.
Why And How I Started to Smoke
I started smoking in June of 1967 when I was taking Navy basic training. During our nine weeks of training, recruits had very little free time during the day. When we were allowed five or ten minutes of free time, it was popularly referred to as a "smoke break." We would all be in a "gedunk" area where you could get a coke from vending machines and puff on cigarettes. During one of these breaks when the "smoking lamp" was lit, a fellow recruit offered me a Tareyton filter cigarette, and shortly later I was hooked and buying my own cigarettes from the BX. At first, I really didn't get that much enjoyment out of smoking. However, after a week or two when I started to crave the nicotine which was building up in my blood, it was an established habit and I had a good feeling each time I lit up. At that time, smoking was very popular in society, and there was no worry about the harmful effects of smoking.
Life As a Smoker
During my 28 years of smoking, I went through an average of one to one and one-half packs of cigarettes per day. Looking back over the experience, I would divide my smoking life into four stages as follows:
1. Light Smoker
During the first seven years, I was generally a light smoker averaging no more than a pack of 100 mm Tareyton filter cigarettes per day. I would smoke after all meals, during breaks at work and school, and while I was studying at night. At times when I was drinking with friends, I would smoke more than usual, While I was smoking with the Navy in Taiwan, a Chinese man once remarked that my Tareyton cigarette was number 10 for smoking but number one for health.
2. Moderate Smoker
Throughout the second seven-year stage of my smoking life, I was a moderate smoker puffing on about one and one-half packs a day. At this stage, I started to need cigarettes while I was working. During most of this time, I was living and teaching English in Taiwan. Vividly do I remember smoking and allowing my students to smoke during class.
3. Heavy Smoker
From about 1981-1993 I was a heavy smoker needing one and one-half to two packs of cigarettes per day. I remember smoking the most during work when I was under pressure to think and complete work assignments. At times I would even chain smoke. Smoking in the workplace environment stopped about 1988 when the federal government decreed that smokers could no longer light up in the presence of non-smokers. It didn't matter to us smokers because we would first go to designated smoking rooms and then outside for frequent smoke breaks.
4. Light to Moderate Smoker
During the last two years I smoked, I was a light to a moderate smoker. At this time I was recently divorced, and my new girlfriend was putting a lot of pressure on me to quit smoking. For that reason, I stopped lighting up inside the house. Most of the time I only smoked when I wasn't in her presence.
How and Why I Quit Smoking
On a few occasions, I had tried quitting smoking. I never lasted more than a week before going back to my "old friend." This all changed on one evening in 1995 when I had my last cigarette and quit smoking for good. At that time I had been complaining about pains in my chest when breathing. After listening to my complaints, I remember my girlfriend saying that she didn't want to lose me from cancer. Upon hearing this, a spell seemed to come over me, and I became very afraid and started to perspire. I began to associate cigarettes with the pains in my chest and cancer, and I actually convinced myself that I would get cancer and die if I smoked another cigarette. I threw away the cigarettes I had left, and I have never had another one. That was on June 30, 1995.
Lessons Learned From Smoking
From 28 years of smoking I have learned the following lessons:
1. Smoking Is Not a Drug Addiction
Contrary to the beliefs of many, smoking is not a drug addiction similar to the addictions to heroin and cocaine. If it were, I would have had to go to a detox center to stop smoking.
2. Smoking Is an Acquired Psychological Social Habit
People are not born or inherit genes which predispose them to be a slave to a cigarette. Smoking is an acquired psychological social habit which one develops usually with a little pressure from peers. If one were not in the presence of smoking friends, a person would most likely not start smoking.
3. Smoking Is an Important Part of One's Daily Routine
While I was a smoker, I always had to have a cigarette right after I got up in the morning, after meals, and at intervals of approximately one hour. This is because one has nicotine in the bloodstream, and one must maintain this nicotine level without feeling psychologically disturbed.
4. How One Can Stop Smoking
Although hypnosis, nicotine patches, electric cigarettes, and nicotine chewing gum can help some people stop smoking, people can still stop smoking cold turkey if they have a strong will. Based on my personal experience, a person needs a fear stimulus like death, and he or she must associate it with cigarettes, pain, and cancer. A person also needs an environment away from smoke and smokers as well as support from loved ones.
5. Smoking Has a Long-Term Effect on Your Health
On March 26, 2015, I was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer) of the left kidney. On April 26, 2015, I had my kidney removed. I'm pretty sure that my 28 years of smoking was a significant factor in causing my cancer.
Everyone is aware of Alcoholics Anonymous, a support group for recovering alcoholics. There should be a comparable organization for ex-smokers. Ex-smokers need a support group such as I have had to ensure that they will never go back to such a health-damaging habit.
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© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn