To this day, I have no idea how I didn’t end up being a smoker. I can honestly say it’s not for lack of trying. In my teen years, growing up in Haiti, smoking was THE cool thing to do. So I tried it… and tried it… and tried some more. To no avail! It was as if I liked smoking but it didn’t like me back. And in the end I gave up.
I count myself lucky, and I am guilty of what this article’s author describes as an increasingly hostile attitude towards smokers. But I also realize that this attitude just makes them retreat further into their habit, much like the overweight kid who gets picked on at school and seeks comfort in food.
So I reached out to a smoker with the question: “What is the most useless advice you have received over the years, and what kind of support would actually help you quit smoking?”. Quite an eye-opener.
I’ve been a smoker for about 15 years. I never intended to take on that label; in fact, I hated the smell of smoke when I was a kid. But somewhere between childhood and becoming a teenager, I thought it would be a good idea to take up the cigarette habit.
What started as a social thing turned into a pack-a-day addiction that I still haven’t managed to kick. I’ve tried nicotine patches, gum, going cold turkey, slowly reducing how much I smoke, electronic cigarettes, hypnotherapy, and even Chantix. While each method had its merits, especially on a short-term basis, none were enough to help me quit for good.
I remember being able to smoke in the mall and inside restaurants when I was younger, but society is becoming increasingly hostile to those of us who choose to pollute our lungs with tobacco. These days, even standing outside with a cigarette draws hateful looks (and the occasional rude comment). While I fully agree that non-smokers should not be forced to breathe secondhand smoke, I also think people could stand to ease up on the hate just a little.
Everyone has opinions about my smoking habit, and they aren’t afraid to share them. (I can only imagine what would happen if I walked up to someone and made “helpful” suggestions about how to lose weight.) Here, in no particular order, are 5 pieces of advice about smoking that I could do without:
- “You know, that’s bad for you!” REALLY? You mean smoking isn’t healthy? Wow. I never would have figured that out on my own. I had no idea that smoking can cause lung cancer, COPD, emphysema, and countless other health problems. It’s not like the packs have warning labels or anything. Thank you, kind citizen, for educating me.
- “My [relative] used to smoke, and s/he quit using [method].” Believe it or not, I am aware that lots of people quit smoking every year. I am also aware of the various methods of quitting, many of which I’ve tried. I never know what I’m supposed to say to those remarks. “Wow, how wonderful for your cousin! Tell him congratulations!”
- “You know, if you quit smoking, food will taste better.” Yes, because that’s exactly what I need. Food tastes pretty damn good already, so I might as well park a chair in front of the fridge if it’s going to taste even better. Cigarettes act as an appetite suppressant, and while that’s not a good reason to smoke, it’s a bad argument for quitting. So I’m supposed to give up a habit that I enjoy, AND I might get fat? Oh gee, sign me up!
- “I don’t know how you stand that smoke smell.” So now you’re saying I stink? This just keeps getting better! Here’s a pro tip: Most smokers are not those disgusting people whose skin is saturated with nicotine smell. I don’t smoke in my house, and I only smoke in my car on long trips. My clothes don’t smell like smoke unless I go to a bar. While I admit my senses are probably dulled compared to a nonsmoker, I know that stench all too well. And I hate it too.
- “Smoking is expensive! You should quit!” Yeah, thanks. My habit costs me about $1300 a year, and it would be much more if I didn’t live in Kentucky (our prices stay low in support of tobacco farmers – can’t drive away business!). Since it comes out of my wallet, I’m well aware of the expense. But saying I should quit because it’s expensive is like me saying you should stop buying groceries because they’re expensive. You can’t just magically stop doing something that’s become almost as natural as breathing.
What to Say to a Smoker
If smoking really bothers you and you’d like to help, the first step is to keep judgmental comments like the above to yourself. We are physically addicted to nicotine, and nothing you say will change that overnight. Nagging just makes us want to escape and take a smoke break. You may find the habit disgusting, and I understand that. But you probably do disgusting things too, and I don’t tell you about it.
Just once, I’d like to hear someone say, “If you ever decide to quit and want some support, I’d be glad to help.” Just that and nothing else, ever. That would let me know the person cares but doesn’t feel compelled to lecture me. And if the day ever comes when I’m ready to quit smoking for good, those are the people I could be around without needing a cigarette as a crutch.