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Of the many things that I wish I hadn’t done in my lifetime, the most regrettable is that I smoked cigarettes.
Now that I am paying the price for the years of nicotine indulgence I often say to anyone who will listen, “How I wish I had never smoked.”
I am sure that as a teenager I knew it was wrong and certainly something my mother would not approve of.
The excuse for that first cigarette and for the thousands that followed is the same old story. Everyone was doing it. Check out the old movies and you can practically smell the heavy smoke pouring from the mouths of the stars we adored.
I know almost to the minute when I quit, but the start-up time is vague. We like to blame someone for pushing us into the nasty habit. I blame the girls who moved into the neighborhood and dared me to share the one cigarette they had absconded from their dad.
Since I quit smoking about 25 years ago I have been one of those obnoxious converts who bores smokers with their stories and lectures.
But, now that I have been diagnosed with emphysema, I am really fired up on the subject.
I am not sure whether the incurable disease is more injurious to my lungs or to my pride. Like every smoker, I believed for all those years that I was immune to smoke-related health problems.
I didn’t listen to warnings. Although Toledo Clinic tests and the doctor say I have a mild case, it is still disgusting that I shouldn’t leave home without an inhaler. For the record, those little gadgets that you see people breathing in and out of are costly: $50 to $100.
Just as I once was dependent on a pack of Parliament cigarettes, now I feel more confident with the inhaler in my purse. I rarely use it, but I know it’s there in case of shortened breath on a long walk.
Everyone who has won the battle against nicotine has a story to tell.
Mine is accompanied by a sincere thank you to a nurse at Toledo Hospital who said the magic words that inspired me to never pick up another cigarette. During a test in the pulmonary department the needle didn’t move as far as the nurse obviously thought it should and she made a critical remark.
“Don’t tell me our food editor smokes,” she said. That statement went through me like a flash of lightning. When the doctor asked if I could possibly stop smoking I told him “I just quit.”
And, I did. As they say it was cold turkey and I have never longed to smoke again.
I am just sorry my encounter with the nurse wasn’t 10 years earlier.
Quitting doesn’t erase the memories of the bad old smoking days when we panicked when we ran out of cigarettes, our clothing smelled like smoke, and we had to sit in the back of the plane.
And how could we forget the smelly overflowing ashtrays in the office and the burned cigarette holes in our best wool suits and tablecloths?
With those shameful memories in the past never to be relived, my mission now is to encourage, politely ask, beg, and plead to smokers that they give it up.
Facts and figures from the American Cancer Society should be an incentive. Thirty percent of all cancer deaths are attributed to the use of tobacco. The number of lung cancer deaths from second-hand smoke this year is predicted to be 34,000.
In addition to lung cancer, the use of tobacco increases the risk for cancer of the mouth, lips, nose, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidneys, bladder, and colon.
My two dearest friends died of lung cancer. One was a heavy smoker, but the other one worked in an office with five smokers and clouds of second-hand smoke.
One friend who has been a chain smoker for 30 years won’t talk about it and comes close to hanging up when I delicately mention the subject.
But another friend has finally admitted it’s a bad habit and says she is making arrangements to try to quit. I don’t know whether her plan is to get assistance from an electric cigarette, hypnosis, patches, or pills.
I do know that the best way to quit is to set your mind and do it. It won’t help to cut back or give it up every other day. It will only hurt for a week or two.
After that you will be proud and you can begin to tell your own “how I quit” story.
Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org