Hi, my name is Jennifer, and I was a smoker.
It’s been 6 years since I had my last cigarette. And if I picked one up today, I’d be a smoker again by the time I finished it.
I was raised in a family of smokers. In the 1970s, my parents smoked and my grandparents smoked. Most of their friends smoked. There was no “going outside” to have a cigarette; everyone smoked everywhere. My earliest memories are of holiday dinners in a gigantic kitchen, with the adults at the table after dinner, smoking and playing cards while the kids ran around the house. There were ashtrays everywhere, cigarette ads on television and in magazines. It was a part of our culture. It was how I grew up.
I tried smoking for the first time in high school because my best friend at the time did. I swiped cigarettes from my mother my sophomore year of high school and hung out with the “cool” kids in the alley across the street from school. I wasn’t a “regular”. It didn’t really agree with me, and I can remember going home sick one day from school because I had smoked and it gave me a migraine and made me throw up.
You’d have thought that would have been the end of it.
I didn’t smoke again until after I graduated from high school and started working full time. The “in-group” at work, some of whom I’d known from high school, took smoke breaks in the lounge and it seemed like that was the “it place”. I started by hanging out in the lounge with them during smoke breaks, and when it seemed silly that I was the only one on a smoke break that didn’t actually smoke, I picked it up again.
I remember vividly when I became a full-time smoker. I was sitting in my car, and I had just bought a pack of cigarettes. Before that time, my smoking had been a casual thing; if I was around people that smoked, I participated. If I wasn’t, I didn’t. At that moment, I lit a cigarette alone in my car and it was the last one in the pack. The thought in my head was, “Oh, I need to stop and get another pack.” I had the awareness that I had crossed over from just wanting to do it, to NEEDING to do it but that didn’t scare the crap out of me to stop.
I was eighteen years old.
During my first pregnancy, and every subsequent one after that, I’ve quit smoking as soon as I was aware that I was pregnant. It usually lasted for the better part of a year after the baby was born. Then the stress of life, being surrounded by people that smoked, or the fear that I will never lose the baby weight lured me back and I picked it up again.
I was, 100%, headfirst, in love with smoking. I considered myself a considerate smoker – never smoking around people who didn’t smoke or children, including my own. I always carried hairspray, mouthwash and gum to get rid of the smell. Or so I thought. I never had anyone complain to me about smelling like an ashtray. All of my friends smoked. My roommate smoked. My ex was a social smoker when I met him and continued to be one throughout the entire time we were together. I was always envious that he smoked as much as I could, and then had the ability to walk away from it without a second look back. I was never built that way.
The laws that were passed, forcing us smokers out of public places, didn’t really affect me and my then group of smoker friends. We found ways around it. Instead of bar parties, we had house parties and hung out in people’s garages for the evening. I ordered cigarettes from online Indian reservation websites by the case to get discount prices in an effort to “save money”.
Looking back it seems so ridiculous.
Over the years, family members quit and started again. Some of my family was able to quit and never go back. Others were not so lucky as the long term effects of their choice to smoke appeared and their lives were shortened due to cancer or illnesses related to smoking.
I still kept smoking. Almost a pack a day. Sometime two on the weekends if we were out at a party.
At the time I became pregnant with my last child and quit smoking, my grandmother (a former smoker) was dying. She had been diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer many years before and her having been in remission for over a decade was a miracle. The last day I spent with her, I was able to tell her I was pregnant with another great-grandchild. She looked at me, held my hand, and begged me to never, ever go back to smoking. It would be the last conversation I would have with her.
I’ve never picked up a cigarette again.
I knew in my heart of hearts that if I didn’t quit after my youngest daughter was born, I never would. It would be the last time that my body was without nicotine for nine months. Quitting smoking is a two-fold process. First, you have to get the nicotine out of your system and deal with the cravings of that. But the second part of it is the ROUTINE of it. This is the hardest part! The have-a-smoke-while-you’re-driving routine. Or the have-a-smoke-after-a-meal routine. And better still the have-a-cigarette-break-because-it’s-2pm routine. There are specific times and places and triggers that are involved with smoking. It took me FOREVER not to get in the car and automatically crack the window. Every time I thought about having a cigarette, I thought about those words that my grandma said to me, I saw her beautiful face and then I moved on. Usually shoving a cookie in my mouth, but I did whatever I needed to do not to smoke.
The damage that I have caused to my lungs from smoking cannot be undone, and time will only tell if I will have a price to pay for that. The damage I caused to my heart muscle from smoking has been reversed; something I learned the heart was able to do from my father’s cardiologist after each one of his three heart attacks. Heart attacks that were caused by a combination of factors, including a pack a day smoking habit for 40+ years.
It’s been 6 years since I smoked and my life is different now. I haven’t lost the baby weight completely, and my youngest daughter is five. I don’t know if I ever will, but I’m okay with the understanding that it will take something OTHER than smoking to get rid of the weight. My friends have changed – mostly from changing my lifestyle. My significant other isn’t a smoker, and neither are my closest friends. No one in my life is a temptation for me. It’s been long enough that I can’t handle the smell, which I suppose is a good thing. I don’t have the cravings anymore.
I’m proud that I managed to quit smoking before my children had any recollection of me with a cigarette in my hand. I firmly believe that smoking is “hereditary”. In my opinion, smoking is passed on from generation to generation because children do what they see. I had access to cigarettes because I lived in a house where people smoked. I was ALWAYS around it, and I didn’t know any different. I can’t say for 100% certainty that I smoked because I was raised in a home with smokers. But I know that I had access and was able to hide it much easier because it was the norm in my house. You don’t need to hide cigarette smell on your clothes in a house full of smokers.
There’s no science that shows that my children won’t smoke because I don’t. Just like there’s no science that shows that I was predisposed to smoking because my parents did. It’s just what I experienced and what I believe. My children have been taught from an earlier age that smoking is yucky. Does that mean they will never try it? There are no guarantees. But I would rather be standing on this side of the smoking issue, sharing with them why we don’t smoke and what it does to our bodies when we do then on the other side telling them not to do it while I run to the garage to grab a quick one.
I understand the decision that companies like Target and now CVS have made by not selling cigarettes to their customers. I’m not interested in penalizing those that smoke. I was once in their shoes, and I’m not judging. They know the risks, and it’s their choice. I firmly believe that any and all forms of quit smoking programs should be covered under group health insurance. People should have access to the help they need.
But I don’t think government regulations, higher taxes on cigarettes, and tougher stop-smoking laws are where the war on smoking should start. I think it starts at home, by showing your kids in your ACTIONS that this is not something that they want to do and talking to them about why. Children learn more from watching television programs, advertising, and PARENTS than they do from hearing lectures. This is with everything in life, not just with smoking.
Take a minute and see what examples you are setting for your family with your actions. Is there anything you’d like to change? Would you be okay with your children imitating what they see in your home?
I’m Jennifer and I was a smoker. But I’m proud to say that I am no longer.
I dedicate this piece to two strong and amazing women who are very publicly taking on the battle to quit smoking right now. Katie and Kadi, I’m sending you a huge hug and tons of love in your fight, and I am cheering you on all the way! YOU CAN DO IT!