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From my perspective: Reader Essays

Laments of a Smoker

by Nancy Keeton, Owensboro

A lot of people want me to stop smoking cigarettes.

My mother would like for me to stop (although she says little about it) because, I suspect, she would like to think I will live at least as long as she has. She just turned 80, and never smoked cigarettes herself. She has been exposed over the long-term to secondhand smoke generated by my father, my grandfather, my step-father, and until recently, me. I don’t smoke in the house anymore.

My friends would like for me to stop because they like me and want me around for a while longer, and because my clothes and car, and probably me, smell like old ashtrays. I also suspect they get a little annoyed at having to wait while I run outside every couple of hours for a smoke.

My granddaughter would like for me to stop smoking because she loves me and because all those lectures I gave her when she was growing up about not smoking may have actually made a difference in her anti-smoking behavior.

I think my doctor would like for me to quit smoking. He says that if I do, I’ll lower my bad cholesterol, raise my good cholesterol and lower my triglycerides.

I think my health insurance carrier would like for me to quit smoking too, but unfortunately, my health insurance does not allow for any type of intensive inpatient treatment for smoking cessation. The implication for me is that if I were just strong-willed enough, I could overcome the habit. (Anybody remember that from the years before alcoholism became a disease?)

Evidently my local government wants me to quit smoking cigarettes, too, at least in public places. But, as with other entities, it seems not to be ready to put real help in place for those who want to quit.

I suspect that Governor Fletcher, a physician, would like for me to stop smoking as well, but evidently not as much as he wants others to quit drinking alcohol and using other drugs. We have facilities planned for alcohol and drug addiction other than to tobacco, but if I remember right, we have a hot line available for those who are addicted to smoking cigarettes. (When I read the announcement about the hot line and saw that the tobacco companies claimed not to be worried about the effect they would have on the tobacco industry, I thought, “Well, duh!”)

A quick search of the articles on smoking cigarettes available in journals quickly confirms the notion that smoking cigarettes is addictive behavior. Some scientists are taking the matter very seriously and some are even searching for genetic links to smoking behavior and addiction. Below are a couple of the hundreds of pieces of information I found in only a few minutes:

Smoking is a leading risk factor for a great number of debilitating and deadly diseases, and addiction to nicotine is one of the principle factors that keeps many people smoking and makes it difficult for many to quit. (National Institutes of Health, 2005)

Kids can become addicted to cigarettes very quickly and even one puff may be enough to hook them, according to a study published in Tobacco Control Research from the University of Massachusetts medical school. It reports that “there does not appear to be a minimum nicotine dose or duration of use as a prerequisite for symptoms to appear.” (Medical Post, Toronto, 2002)

I also found a questionnaire in the 2001 Medical Post. I scored a five. I don’t know exactly what that means but I’ll bet it’s not good. I wish I was a zero.

A quick and easy way to assess the level of a patient’s nicotine dependency is the Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependency, which consists of six questions.

Each answer is assigned a score and tallied so a patient will accumulate a total score from zero (low nicotine dependency) to 10 (high dependency).

It’s scary business to put this to paper and even scarier to submit it for publication. I can imagine some of the responses I’ll get.
“I quit. Just have a little willpower – you can too.”
“Take a pill.”
“Wear a patch.”
“Try hypnosis, it worked for me.”

As you may have guessed by now, I’ve looked into this. I’ve worried about it, prayed over it, and tried unsuccessfully to quit. The struggle remains mine. The point I want to make is this (but wait, Judy Law, in Newsweek a couple of months ago said it for me): I got myself into this mess and, therefore, I accept my status as an addict and a pariah. But I’m also profoundly ticked off.

Let me make a few things clear. I believe that the men who ran the tobacco companies were evil because they lied about poison for profit. I believe that smoking cigarettes can make people sick and even cause death. I believe that kids should never take that first drag and that people who can quit should. Cigarette smoke is noxious in close quarters. It makes sense that smokers are confined to separate quarters in restaurants and bars or herded outside to parking lots and alleys.

That said, I want self-righteous antismoking zealots off my back.

And I would add to that, if we really are to take cigarette smoking and the attendant issues seriously, maybe it is time we considered providing more than a pill, a patch, a lozenge, a film and a hot line to those who want to quit.

From my perspective: Reader Essays is a new feature offering readers an opportunity to respond to published articles or to generate public dialogue regarding important issues facing our community. The Public Life Advocate reserves the right to edit for clarity and brevity, and to withhold publication based on editorial judgment and relevance. Submissions should be sent to info@plfo.org and will become the property of the Public Life Foundation.

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