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The Truth About Stopping Smoking

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I’m working late tonight, on deadline for the (later) morning, in fact, but just had to pause to chuckle and post about a new smoking cessation drug called Chantix for which I’ve recently seen numerous TV commercials, including one just a few minutes ago.

I know I’m essentially talking to myself and about 25 other people (the rest is done with mirrors) when I say that I’m a smoker and have been for 43 years. I tried stopping once, about 15 years ago, when I was completely misdiagnosed as having had a minor heart attack. I lasted through five of the most miserable months of my life, gained 40 lbs., then threw in the towel (or, in this case, the nicotine patch).

The purpose of this post is to let non-smokers know that addiction to nicotine, although a genuine addiction, is NOT the reason that keeps most smokers smoking. As smokers can tell you (and former smokers will occasionally admit), we don’t smoke because we think it’s cool, nor do we not believe that there may be health risks. We smoke because smoking is comforting. It relieves stress. It acts as a true companion for the lonely. It becomes a mechanism for measuring time and structuring routine. For longtime smokers, cigarettes are a constant, one that endures through life’s inevitable losses, disappointments, even disasters. For these reasons, focusing on nicotine addiction in smoking cessation efforts misses the point – completely – which is why so many smokers fail at quitting or return to smoking after quitting for a while.

Whether you click on the Chantix homepage linked above or go directly to the site of its manufacturer, Pfizer, Inc., you’ll note that, as is increasingly the case with “approved” medications, the cure is just as dangerous as the disease (if not more so). The numerous side effects, in Pfizer’s own words, include:

[C]hanges in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal thoughts or actions…If you, your family, or caregiver notice agitation, hostility, depression, or changes in behavior, thinking, or mood that are not typical for you, or you develop suicidal thoughts or actions, anxiety, panic, aggression, anger, mania, abnormal sensations, hallucinations, paranoia, or confusion, stop taking Chantix and call your doctor right away…Also tell your doctor about any history of depression or other mental health problems before taking Chantix, as these symptoms may worsen while taking Chantix. Some people can have serious skin reactions while taking Chantix, some of which can become life-threatening…allergic reactions to Chantix, some of which can be life-threatening…a rash with peeling skin or blisters in your mouth… nausea (30%), sleep problems, constipation, gas, and/or vomiting…You may have trouble sleeping, vivid, unusual, or strange dreams while taking Chantix…

I’m fully aware that the American public has been convinced that smoking, along with obesity, are the roots of all health evils, and if we all just stopped smoking and lost weight, we’d all live to be 100, health care would cost $1.25, and almost no one would get sick from anything (except from those of us who are still fat and/or smoking, because just standing near us is dangerous to your health). But it’s just not true.

I’ve written extensively (with documentation) about both these issues on my personal blog, MizB Views From the Tower, which I invite you to check out if you’re at all interested in considering an alternate point of view (just click on “Smoking” and “Fat Acceptance” in my sidebar Labels list). But I don’t expect to make any converts. I concede that, right or wrong, I’m completely outnumbered, and not just in the USA, but around the world, too.

It is both ironic and important to note that many of the side effects attributed to Chantix (and other drugs of its type) are feelings and conditions that smokers already have, and which smoking helps alleviate! During the five months I wasn’t smoking, I continually wished I were dead. I’ve made a choice: I’d rather have a shorter, happier life than a longer, miserable one.

PLEASE don’t bother to comment about how a loved one in your life died of lung cancer, that smokers smell funky, that second-hand smoke is a social danger, or that despite any scientific evidence to the contrary you totally believe the Party Line. I’ve heard it all before and there’s nothing you can say that will change my mind – just as there is nothing I’ve written here that will change anybody else’s mind. The lines are clearly drawn and we all know where we stand. But my viewpoint is rarely if ever heard, so I just wanted to offer this scream into the blogonight.

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About Jeanne Browne

  • good job this very great posting,..!

  • Thank You, Indonesia Bumiku — and I hope things are OK with you during the terrible weather around you.

  • I tried Chantix for 3 months, I think it’s about the only thing that will help, for me. I did experience mood changes as anyone who knows me recognized and I began to get gentle feedback that I should take a look at the side effects. So, I did and I have been off Chantix for about a month. Mood problems began to dissipate within 3 days. So, now the trick is to go back to the Chantix, knowing that the moods are drug induced.

    I have quit smoking 3-4 times in the last 37 years. I know once I quit, those things like passing the time and comfort and stress reduction are not a problem. But my husband, whose health doesn’t afford him the luxury of smoking, has picked up my cigarettes and become addicted again after having quit for a year. He can’t quit as long as I don’t quit.

    So, that leaves me with a choice: who do I want more as a friend–a cigarette or my husband.

  • A very honest appraisal, Jeanne. Yes, smoking does serve as an antidote for me – always had – against my typically aggressive personality, exuberant energy and all kinds of sins.

    I simply wouldn’t know what to do with myself if it wasn’t for that sedative – climb the walls, perhaps, and picking up fights with everybody. Not to mention it energized my brain cells. When it comes to thinking, I’d be a vegetable without a cigarette.

    My sister, who is an MD, broke all communications with me because I haven’t stopped. (We live in the same town.) Yet she loves me dearly.

  • But Jeanne is right about the side effect of Chantix; numerous studies confirmed that.

    Hypnosis is one method that was supposed to work; some people swear by it.

  • I worked with a Smoking Cessation Program for quite some time and the one thing that comes back time and again is that smoking is done for a reason, and if that reason isn’t resolved, the smoking won’t stop. Getting people to stop smoking is a waste of time and money and energy for a lot of them, since it doesn’t rid them of the reason why they started smoking in the first place.

    I’m not a smoker, and to be honest, I really hate the smell of cigarette (sorry guys!) but I don’t like the pressure tactics being used by public health officials to get people to stop smoking. Perhaps if more time was spent creating the kind of communities that would take care of all its people would be a better way of dealing with not only smoking, but also with the obesity epidemic.

  • I really happen to think, Sahar, that it’s acting on a self-destructive impulse, a kind of death wish.

  • Cindy — If I had a viable choice between a loving husband and smoking, I’d choose the husband too, providing that he’d been around long enough to convince me he wasn’t going anywhere. I wish you luck in successfully quitting, since that’s clearly the right choice for you.

    Roger — Once again, we’re in sync (not surprised). I understand the “concern” that motivates your doctor-sister to punish you by withholding her familial affection, but I find that kind of concern objectionable and judgmental. It’s one thing to say to any smoker: please don’t smoke around me/my kids/in my house/in my car, whatever. There are people in my life who make those requests of me, and I have no problem with that. I DO have a problem with the general lack of “live and let live” attitude that vanishes more and more in this country every day.

    Sahar — Thank you for recognizing the oppression of smokers (including the enormous level of taxation without representation). It is a lazy and unkind solution to what many regard as a serious social problem. Unrepentant smokers like me might make more of an effort to conform if our present society was a more attractive and supportive thing to be a part of. But it’s not. So, I agree with Roger that there is definitely an element of purposeful self-destruction and no small death wish. I don’t hope to drop dead in my tracks in the near future, but I’m grateful that I’m not likely to reach an advanced old age.

  • Well, remember you spoke of that cyanide pill on another thread. Where is it when you really need it? (semi-joke)

  • I’m thinking of becoming a spy, just to get my hands on one…

  • STM

    Yep, I’m a smoker too … and I love it. I don’t drink now or take any kind of drugs unless they’ve been legitimately described.

    But geez, I love a smoke every nowand then.

    I’m down to a few a week, from a packet a day, and have used nicotone replacement therapy (a nice, fruit flavoured gum).

    The one time I REALLY love a smoke is when I come out of the surf after a long session. I know that sounds bizarre, but after a few hours in the water, getting out of my boardshorts or wetsuit, drying off in the sun and getting a coffee across the road at the cafe, I like to go back and sit on the bench near where I park, watch the other folks in the water and fire up a ciggy and have my coffee.

    The gum just ain’t the same.

    However, I did put on 20kg (don’t have a clue what that is in pounds, but it’s a lot) when I first stopped, and have now begun working hard to lose it and have shed quite a bit.

    I was never a fan of donuts until … KrispyKremes were introduced to Australia from America about a year before I stopped, and they just aren’t a good nicotine replacement therapy. Trust me, lots of exercise works best.

    The odd smoke works for me, but I’d hate to get back to the level I was at before, especially since both my father and grandfather both died of emphysema through life-long heavy smoking.

    Mind you, they did have a pretty good innings. My gradfather was in his 80s, and my old man was just shy of the mark but had another illness too that shortened his life.

  • STM

    “legitimately described” … well, I could legitimately describe them all day.

    Make that “prescribed”.

  • Why did you give up on booze, one of the few pleasures in life?

  • STM — Surf’s up, smokes up, eh? I’m happy for you that you’ve found sufficient pleasure in moderate smoking. I’ve been making my own cigarettes for about a year (using an “injector machine”: put cigarette tube with filter on a thin funnel, add tobacco in flute, swing lever and presto!, a great smoke!) since a carton of cigarettes in NYC is now more than $100 (largely comprised of taxes)… anyway, my point is, I smoke considerably less, 1 to 1 1/2 packs a day (heavier smoking when writing) down from a fairly steady average of 2 packs a day. I didn’t cut down intentionally, I just began to notice I was smoking less, perhaps because I’m conscious of the effort of making them — which I enjoy, but it’s certainly less easy than opening a ready-made pack. STM, it’s comforting to know that “Down Under” as well as here and elsewhere, there are other rational people taking legal pleasure in a legal substance. Now, if we would just legalize pot (worldwide), governments could tax their way out of the recession, but politically, the heads of many people would explode — but I guess that’s another thread…