When I lit my first cigarette under the Graham River bridge in Judique, N.S., The Spoons were my favourite band (okay, they still are). For the next two decades, my smokes stayed with me as I moved to five different cities, changed careers, met new people and left old friends behind. And I was devoted to them, until last Labour Day.
My “aha!” moment came last year after a health scare (which turned out to be minor). I was worried about my life potentially being shortened, and suddenly saw the irony: By smoking, I was purposely reducing my life expectancy. What a fool! I asked myself, “If I don’t quit now, then when?”
I wasn’t sure how I’d do it. Over the years I’d tried nicotine gum, going cold turkey and cutting back, but without success. Then a colleague told me about a book called Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking, first published in 1985. I noticed it was endorsed by Ellen DeGeneres: “Everybody who reads this book stops, and I stopped.” That’s pretty powerful; Ellen doesn’t pussyfoot around.
I opened myself up to Carr’s advice. He was a chain smoker who quit in 1983 (he died of lung cancer in 2006). So he understood the smoker’s mind, and countered every argument I’ve ever made against quitting. Here’s one: “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, so I should just enjoy today.” Carr wrote, “Would you deliberately step under a bus?” Of course not; yet I was deliberately stepping in front of the cancer bus every day. I also worried I couldn’t quit without a replacement such as food, but Carr wrote, “Would you tell an alcoholic who was trying to quit to do so by drinking beer instead of wine?” (I haven’t gained weight since I quit.) What about withdrawal pangs? Think of them as a reminder that the "smoking monster," as Carr called it, is dying. And I wondered if I could ever enjoy a social occasion again. Carr advised thinking of smoking as an isolated occasion, and remember that those “poor smokers have to smoke all day, every day, for the rest of their lives.” The cigarette stranglehold was loosening.
Then there was the chapter in which I had to account for the money I’d spent on smoking, and would spend in future. I was shocked: Smoking a pack a day for another 20 years, I’d spend $73,000 for the privilege of killing myself. (The sad part is that I had already spent almost that much.) I finished the book, and quit.
I think most smokers would prefer be non-smokers. The beautiful part is that you can stop. I don’t know what method is best for you, but the important thing is to try something. If not now, then when?
Wendy Fox, 38, is director of research for a Toronto executive search firm.
Reasons to butt out
Every puff raises your risk of:
• Lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer death for Canadian women;
• Other cancers, such as bladder, cervical, colon and rectal cancers (women who smoke are 95 percent more likely than non-smokers to develop the latter, said a recent U.S. study); and
• Heart attacks, stroke and respiratory ailments such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (female smokers are 20 percent more likely to develop COPD than male smokers, according to a recent study from Nanjing Medical University in China).
Quitting smoking reduces your carbon monoxide levels within hours and slashes your smoking-related heart attack risk in half within one year, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. Download helpful quitting tools at smokershelpline.ca and hc-sc.gc.ca.
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