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An Update: Lifting the Nicotine Fog

by Linda Jenkinson

smoker at graveyard

A nicotine fog is more than smoke that fills a room. It clouds your brain, and fools you into believing that although you want to quit, you can’t. The bad news is there are a lot of cigarette substitutes on the market today that keep the addiction going. I found I could chew nicotine gum and smoke at the same time. If you want to double your pleasure, you can wear a patch while you smoke. Folks will tell you that is foolishness, dangerous to try. Smoking is dangerous.

I quit cold turkey. You can, too, by changing one word and flipping two words of the sentence, “I want to quit but I can’t” to “I can smoke, but I don’t want to.”

I thought I had caught a cold.

I rarely get colds, which is why I never thought smoking affected my health. Of course, I had that morning smoker’s cough—well, several-times-a-day coughs—but they were gentle throat-clearing coughs.

Then, I thought it had become some weird flu bug. I’d be sick for a week, start feeling better, and then get sick all over again. I coughed so hard that I worried about coughing blood, but it didn’t happen. I could have gone to the doctor, but I didn’t want to hear that it was only a cold or the flu or listen to my doctor lecture me about smoking. I got enough of that from TV commercials.

I admit smoking is a dirty habit. Any smoker who has knocked over a full ashtray, burnt a hole in something precious, or mowed up more cigarette butts than grass will agree. Still, you can’t shame or nag smokers into quitting. Like any addict, smokers quit when they reach the “bottom” not on the well-meaning advice of their loved ones.

I tried to quit smoking several times, using several methods. Unsuccessful, I settled on cutting back. Fifteen years ago, I quit smoking inside our home. I thought I would never quit altogether. I enjoyed smoking, but didn’t want nicotine dirtying up the walls in our home. I never minded going outside or to the porch to smoke.

Then, I had a breast cancer scare in 2010. Although I finally admitted that I should quit, I was sure, after smoking for 45 years, I didn’t have the willpower. Besides, if the first cancer scare wasn’t enough to make me quit, chances were nothing would be. I resigned myself to be a smoker until my dying day.

I cut back further. I had good reasons to quit besides my own health concerns. My husband has a heart problem, and I worried about the effect second hand smoke might have on his health. Although I no longer smoked in the house, he still had to walk through the porch on the way in or out and I did still smoke in the car.

Cigarette smoke seemed to adversely affect our dog, and I worried about the effects my smoke had on him. I cut back to 4 to 5 cigarettes a day. For those of you who don’t smoke, that’s about a pack and a half per week. Even cutting back was hard. Lighting up was such a habit that I often forgot that I was trying not to smoke. For the last couple of years, I rarely smoked a whole cigarette at one time.

Over the years, it had become more and more difficult to breathe. For years, I attributed shortness of breath to my weight. The last year, walking the dog around the block would take my breath away. In the Minnesota winter, I spent the first block coughing as my lungs tried to adjust to the cold. Shortness of breath was also making me lose control of my bladder. It’s ironic that I didn’t realize that until after I quit smoking. In fact, I didn’t relate tobacco-based health problems to smoking until after I stopped.

When I had cut down to less than four cigarettes a day, I decided to quit smoking… soon. Still, I found reasons to delay. I figured since I smoked less, I’d be healthier. At least, healthier than when I smoked two packs (40 cigarettes) a day. I reasoned that I wanted to lose weight before I quit. If I gained weight from quitting smoking, I resolved not to end up heavier than I was before I quit. Then, in December of 2014, I got sick.

This on-again/off-again illness lasted until April. (I am a stubborn, slow learner.) On April 10, every single draw on a cigarette sent me into spasms of coughing. I couldn’t breathe. If the coughing didn't kill me, smoking would scare me to death. It was my sign to quit.

Quitting wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. If I smoked, I couldn’t breathe. I mean, I really couldn’t breathe. I resolved that if I kicked this half-century habit, I would use the memories of gasping for breath and the discomfort of coughing spasms to keep me smoke free.

I chose breathing. I didn’t gain weight. I stayed true to my resolve. Food tastes better, especially fruit. I began eating more of it. I drink less coffee. I broke the cycle of fill up the cup and go have a smoke. Finally, I made the right choice.

I don’t cough now. One day my husband commented that he hadn’t heard me cough for a long time. I blushed with pride at the unexpected compliment.

Have you ever wished for more time? I still get 24 hours every day, but it seems like way more time than it used to. All those trips to the front porch to light up, even for only a couple of puffs, used up several hours a day!

I know I’m saving money. When I quit, my brand of cigarettes retailed for $7.12 a pack. In Minnesota, the cheapest brands were over $5.00 and top shelf over $10.00. Still, it isn’t the savings that make quitting worthwhile. It’s not having to pass on other items as too expensive, having to save enough for cigarettes. (Further Update: I am happy to no longer know the price of a pack of cigarettes.)

If you are a smoker, my story will likely not give you the push you need to quit. Everyone has to dig their own way out of the pit. Over the years, I saw numerous scary things that should have made me want to quit. I didn't believe the amputated legs, the voice boxes, and the yellow teeth and fingers could be due to smoking. I finally quit because I scared myself. If you’re a smoker, you need to find the demon that scares the devil out of you.

If you have committed to trying to quitting, these tips may help.

Most important: Do it your way. This is a “my way or the highway” situation. Ignore these tips and any other well-meaning advice that you know won’t work for you because if you believe something won’t work, it won’t.

Know why you are quitting. That reason must have something to do with you. You can’t quit for your husband, your kids, your dog, or anybody else. Remind yourself of your reason every time the thought of a smoke tempts you to light up. Every time I want to light up, I remember that illness and how miserable it made me. I remember how I couldn’t stop coughing long enough to get my breath. I remembered how I worried about coughing up blood.

You may have heard that it is essential to set a quit date. It isn’t. I didn’t. I quit because I couldn’t smoke and breathe at the same time. Although I had considered quitting for some time, I did it on the spur of the moment. If you think it will work, do it that way. If the idea doesn't feel right to you, don't worry about it.

I didn’t tell anyone I had quit until I was sure I was going to make it. I didn’t want anyone’s helpful hints, and I didn’t want the guilt and humiliation if I failed.

Friends may advise you to throw out your cigarettes. I didn’t. I kept a pack and a half in our freezer for two years. I didn’t throw them out. I know I would go through old pockets and even trash looking for butts if I wanted to smoke. I didn't want to do that again. (Yes I had done it before!) I kept plenty of cigarettes available. When I was tempted to smoke I told myself, "I can smoke them, I just don’t want to right now." I finally threw them away in 2017.

Before you quit, think about things you don’t have time to do. Make a list. When you quit, you will have time to do them.

An Appeal to Non Smokers

If you are reading this and you are a non-smoker, please take it easy on the smokers in your life. If they’re like me, the more you nag, the longer they will smoke. Quitting smoking is a horrible demon to face, but a smoker has to face it alone. It’s almost impossible to do it with someone looking over your shoulder, even if they have the best of intentions.