It’s no lie that the tobacco industry is a lucrative one, fueling the addictions of millions. If smokers could just quit -- if there was an answer as easy as one-two-three -- there’d be no need for anti-smoking campaigns or events like Thursday’s Great American Smokeout.
So what are the thought processes behind why people smoke and why some people opt to quit? Even though everyone’s story is different, take a look at two siblings, Beth Orthaus-Bory and E.J. Orthaus, as they both detail their personal struggles with smoking: Beth has successfully quit smoking for a year; E.J., meanwhile, admits that he thinks about cigarettes anywhere from 30-50 times a day.
Beth, how long did you smoke, and how many cigarettes did you smoke daily?
Beth: I smoked over the span of 16 years, about a pack a day. I'd usually have one or two cigarettes left over for the ride to the gas station the next day to pick up more cigarettes.
E.J., how long have you been smoking?
E.J.: I have been a smoker for more years in my life than not. I'm 31 and have smoked regularly for 16 years. That fact makes me nauseous. Currently, I only smoke about 5-10 cigarettes a day. I usually try to find one or two times a day that I absolutely want a cigarette and then fight the urge. It helps me feel slightly more in control of my addiction.
When did you smoke your first cigarette?
Beth: In the seventh grade with a friend, Sherry.
E.J.: It was with my older sister Beth. I was in seventh grade, and she was in the eighth. One night, I walked outside and called her name. She told me to come to where she was, behind a van. I will never forget that, when I rounded the corner, I saw something glowing from her hand. I said, “What’s that in your hand?” She looked at me, so mischievously, and just said, “I'm smoking a cigarette, here have a drag.” I mean, being that this was my older sister that I respected so much, I had no choice.
Beth, what was the excitement in offering your brother his first cigarette?
Beth: A partner in crime, of course.
And, do you regret that moment?
Beth: If you’re asking me if I feel responsible for getting my brother addicted to cigarettes, the answer is absolutely not. It's not an instant addiction. As far as E.J. is concerned, he must’ve wanted to keep smoking, too, until he became addicted. So, I don't regret that moment in my life. Isn't trying a cigarette for the first time a rite of passage? I'd venture to say a very large percent of Americans have, at some point in their lives, tried a cigarette.
E.J., when did you know you were addicted to cigarettes?
E.J.: I first knew I was addicted several years after I started smoking, when I had a consistent selection of people who were willing to sell me cigarettes at a very young age. I started to progressively smoke more and more every day. One day, I just realized that I had to have a cigarette. Cigarettes now controlled me. I no longer controlled them.
How often do you think about smoking?
E.J.: I'm thinking about smoking right now. I probably think about smoking anywhere from 30-50 times daily. Fortunately, I don't always act on those thoughts.
How does it feel when you light up?
E.J.: I get a very relaxed, calm feeling, like everything in life is perfect for just a few minutes. I feel very comfortable and warm inside. I also enjoy the actual physicality of smoking. Reaching into my pocket for the lighter, pulling out a cigarette, putting it to my mouth, sparking the flame and drawing it to the end of the cigarette. Taking a quick puff without inhaling to ignite the cigarette. The whole thing is a ritual. The ritual’s so sacred to me that it will most likely be the hardest part of quitting.
With all of the consumer warnings out there, why do you smoke?
E.J.: Look, I know cigarettes are bad for my health. I am educated on the possible side effects and the long-term harm that smoking can cause. I smoke because it's an addiction. My body tells me I need a cigarette every day, and I honor that request. My body would be very unhappy if I don't give it what it tells me it needs.
Beth, why did you quit? What was the one prompting factor?
Beth: I quit smoking because it's disgusting. It's expensive and smoking causes multiple health risks. I'm concerned about the direction of health care, and my plan of action is to stay as healthy as possible, so I won't need a doctor's care for anything more than a cold. I also quit because I do not want to be 64 and dying from lung cancer. I have children and it's not just about me anymore. I want to be there when my children get married and when my grandchildren get married.
E.J., do you want to quit?
E.J.: I do very much want to quit and hope to do so in the near future. I’ve been reluctant to try to quit because of previous failed attempts. Unfortunately, when people try to quit, they end up failing many times before they are successful. I do not handle failure very well.
Beth, how many times did it take before you were able to successfully quit smoking?
Beth: Ten times. Ten times! Quitting smoking was the most miserable, most challenging hurdle I've ever had to overcome. But very simply, if you want to quit smoking and you’re still smoking, it's because you don't really want to quit. It's that simple.
What was the quitting process like? What methods did you use?
Beth: The first few times I tried to quit, I quit cold turkey. Let me just say, this does not work unless someone chains you to a bed and does not let you up for, I'd say, about two weeks. I also tried the lozenges, but this worked for a small period of time. Quitting is more than just the physical aspect. It's also very much a mental addiction. You’re so used to having a cigarette when you’re driving. You feel like, “How am I ever going to drive without smoking? I'll be so bored!”
During the quitting process, what difficulties did you face?
Beth: I'd see someone smoking, and I would want to smoke too. So I'd smoke one, and then the next week it would be two and so on, until I was full blown smoking again. I will always probably want to smoke, just like an alcoholic, who will always have the desire to drink. But like they say, a recovered alcoholic is one drink away from being an alcoholic. It's the same with smoking. The first two weeks are about physical withdrawal, but after that it's a battle of wills.
What inevitably helped you to quit?
Beth: The thing that helped me quit was Chantix. It's a prescription medicine you can get from your doctor, but it's only going to help if you use it as prescribed. Don’t stop taking it too early.
How do you feel now?
Beth: I'm so happy I quit, but it is still a battle I fight. It does feel good when I pull up to work and I realize I didn't think about smoking once. I'm like, wow, you can drive and not smoke!
The Great American Smokeout is November 18. What advice do you have for people looking to quit?
Beth: You'll quit when you’re ready. When you are, find your motivating force and hold onto it like a life preserver.
What advice do you have for your brother?
Beth: E.J., if you want to quit, you will. I don’t think you’re really ready to give it up. Find your motivation, brother, and just do it!
Thursday, the American Cancer Society will celebrate the 35th Great American Smokeout, an event promoting smokers to either make a plan to quit or to quit smoking altogether. As Beth explains, quitting smoking is no easy feat, which is why, in part, the American Cancer Society is encouraging that all smokers unite for the benefit of establishing one large support network.
Visit the American Cancer Society website for details on how to quit, the benefits of quitting and tools for mapping out your quit day.