Kicking my cigarette habit was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s been over 10 years and I can hardly believe I used to puff those nicotine sticks down. When I quit, I was up to more than a pack a day and was spending an average of $175 a month on my habit. If I still smoked today, with the rise in the cost of cigarettes, that number would be double.
Today is American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout. If you want to kick the smoking habit once and for all, what better day to give it a shot. It won’t be easy but it could be the best thing you ever do for yourself and your family.
Aside from saving thousands of dollars since I smoked my last cancer stick on December 31, 2004, here are just some of the benefits I’ve noticed:
• I don’t stink anymore.
• I don’t take breaks throughout the day and get more done.
• My husband would have never dated me had I been a smoker.
• I haven’t had bronchitis since.
• I can hike without gasping for breath.
• I don’t need to come in to the beach when swimming or surfing for a cigarette.
• I don’t need to worry about flying on airplanes without being able to smoke.
• I don’t need to go outside while out to dinner with friends or family for a smoke.
• My teeth are no longer stained yellow (I had them whitened after five years of not smoking).
I started smoking at a very young age. I was 12 when I had my first, and by age 13, I was fully addicted. My dad, who still smokes today, tried the old smoke until I was sick strategy on me when he discovered cigarettes in my backpack at age 13. It was an epic fail. Cigarettes were easy to get and when I wasn’t taking them from my dad’s stash, my friends and I found creative ways, including older siblings, to get our hands on them.
I tried to quit multiple times before I succeeded. I started trying around the time I got into hiking, surfing, and going to the gym. By my mid-20s, I was already feeling the negative effects of smoking. I felt like I was living a double standard by being physically active while destroying myself with disgusting cigarette toxins.
I was finally able to succeed by quitting cold turkey. I had a huge support network and that made a big difference. I had recently started my first job in public relations and although it can be a high-stress industry, I felt awkward being the only one in my firm that smoked.
When it was time, I announced to all my co-workers and clients I was quitting once and for all. That public announcement (mind you, this was the pre-Facebook era) made all the difference in the world, as well as a supportive boss who let me stay at home for the first couple of days because my hands were shaking and I was volatile.
I had to change all my routines when I returned to work. I had become accustomed to taking hourly breaks. Now I took breaks to walk to the store for gum or a piece of fruit. I asked co-workers to come with me to keep me accountable. I chewed a lot of gum, so much so there were days my jaw was sore. Better than cigarettes, I reasoned. And I did not gain the dreaded weight. In fact, I lost weight fast. I was fortunate to still have a 20-somethings metabolism and I kicked my fitness routine into top gear. Working out and being active replaced my desire to smoke.
Quitting smoking is my proudest accomplishment because it took multiple attempts, and a sincere dedication to give up something that had become a part of my identity. I’m not going to lie; it was a miserable experience at first. Quitting smoking has been compared to quitting heroin.
I’m lucky I only smoked for 13 years. Although still a long stint, my health is good. I work hard to eat healthy, stay active, and manage stress in healthy ways. The American Cancer Society lists the health benefits that an ex-smoker enjoys after putting out the last butt:
• Risk of coronary heart disease is half of a continuing smoker’s after one year.
• Cervical cancer risk falls to that of a non-smoker after five years.
• Risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder cancer are cut in half after five years.
• Risk of dying from lung cancer is half of a smoker’s after 10 years.
• Risk of coronary heart disease is that of a non-smoker’s after 15 years of quitting.
To this day, I still get cravings for nicotine. As the years have passed, they’ve become far less frequent but I still notice certain triggers. It’s truly amazing that after a decade, the brain can still recall that pleasurable rush I used to feel from smoking. When I have a craving, I simply remember that this too shall pass and how amazing it is that I kicked my habit.
I know my loved ones are also happy I quit. I only hope my father can find the strength to do the same someday because I want him to be around for a long time.