May 31 is World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), which focuses attention on the public health agenda against tobacco. JSI has been promoting WNTD efforts for more than 20 years, helping to raise public awareness of the need to prevent and treat tobacco and nicotine addiction and to alleviate related diseases such as asthma and cancer. JSI’s Tobacco Resource Network is leading the way in promoting this year’s theme: Commit to Quit. Some of our staff and partners have shared their quit stories and have shown that quitting smoking and freeing yourself from nicotine addiction can be incredibly difficult, but possible.
Norbert Hirschhorn, JSI co-founder
I started smoking in high school when Winston, the first filter point cigarettes came out (“tastes like a cigarette should”). I stopped at university when I joined the swimming team. I started over with my ex-wife (a three-pack-earnings-per-day smoker), but only when we fought, which was almost every day. I smoked Silva Thins because the ads looked so sexy.
When I started running in 1975 (inspired by Bill Rodgers, who won the Boston Marathon that year) I quit cold turkey altogether, but the secondhand smoke lasted another 10 years. Memorial plaque deposits on my cliffs are proof of the exposure.
Ann Marie Rakovic, senior consultant and project director; former director of Tri-State Smokers Helpline and Resource Center for Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire
Mickey Vanden Bossche, Deputy Chief Executive Officer
I can not remember the day I had my last cigarette because I never wanted it to be my last cigarette. However, I will never ever forget how hard it was to stop the first time. It took me several tries and years to quit, but it got easier each time. On September 11, 2001, I bought a pack of cigarettes, because if I were to die in DC, I’m going to inhale a cigarette. I finally threw the unopened package in the trash in 2014 when I moved. I suspect it took me over 20 years to never want to smoke again.
Shannon Spurlock, co-director; former project manager of Tri-State Smoker’s Helpline and Resource Center for Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire
I was a smoker who liked to smoke a lot. Smoking has become a sign of independence for me. I stopped when I realized I was hiding and lying to my friends and family about my smoking and I became aware of my emotional dependence on cigarettes. I was happy that my addiction was less physical and that my triggers and withdrawal were more emotional. While quitting 27 years ago, I had a few relapses during crises and I still, after all these years, had minor urges during times of emotional upheaval.
It amazes me that cigarettes have been affecting people’s lives for so many years on so many levels. Physical addiction is hard to overcome, but psychological and emotional addiction can be just as intense. People who know me now are always surprised to hear I was a smoker. When I ask why they are surprised, the answer is usually that I do not “look like a smoker”. I tell them it’s because I’m not a smoker, but I was and it was hard to quit for good and one of the best decisions of my life.
Christin D’Ovidio, JSI Behavior Change Communication; former communications specialist for NH tobacco prevention and strike program
Eric Turer, senior consultant
I started smoking at the age of 15 and smoked for about 11 packs a day for 11 years. I quit shortly after meeting my future wife, who did not smoke and was entering medical school. She hated the smell of my clothes. She encouraged me to quit for all the personal and public health reasons I already knew, but I did not want to give up. She eventually figured out my deeper motivations and brought me a booklet from her school that describes how tobacco companies manipulate the social and political discourse in the country. I knew about the fake research, but I had no idea of the tobacco industry’s control over the media and our society at the time.
So, if it is not for your health, stop for the sake of society and freedom of the press. You might just marry the love of your life as a bonus, like I did!
Karyn Madore, former marketing director of the NH Tobacco Helpline
As a former smoker, I know how hard it is to quit. I had my first cigarette when I was in sixth grade and I was fascinated by the Virginia Slims ads that were unmistakably aimed at women. I wanted to be like the women in these ads. By the time I was in college, I was a “smoker”. I stopped for my spouse and it was the best thing I ever did. If you’ve thought about quitting tobacco, it’s never too late!
Liz creel, senior technical advisor
Jennifer Wall, Director of Tobacco Free RI
My mother was addicted to menthol cigarettes throughout all three of her pregnancies. After five stopping attempts at various points in life and before a spinal stenosis operation, her surgeon said if she wanted to heal properly, she should stop smoking. His recommendation, coupled with fears of becoming more seriously ill if she contracted COVID-19 due to her smoking status, greatly influenced her decision to quit definitively. Once again, she turned to nicotine patches and used the life-or-death steps as a motivator to kick off a 46-year-old habit. It’s been 9 months since her last cigarette. Her back has healed properly and she is panting, coughing and experiencing shortness of breath less frequently than ever before. I am so happy to call my mother a “former smoker” and am honored to share her message of hope: “Quitting smoking is difficult, but 100% possible and I am proof of that.”
Are you proud of your quit story? Share it on Twitter with #WhyIQuit and tag @JSIHealth_US.