A reader writes:
When I quit smoking, my weight balloons. It doesn’t matter how much I watch what I eat or how much exercise I get, I gain a lot of weight. When I got about 70 pounds above my normal weight, I started smoking again. Within a year, I’m down to my normal weight. I eat because I need to – not because I want to. My Type II diabetes disappeared. Pains in my feet and joints went away. Yet, I am classified as practically a leper from non-smokers even though I do not smoke around them. I asked my family doctor for help regarding my appetite and metabolism, but he said he couldn’t provide anything like that because it’s so bad for you. For me, smoking was my least bad option. I will quit again by the end of this year. Then the cycle will continue.
What Kelly Quirino is describing is detoxing from a drug; she is also trying to cope with the triggers inherent in withdrawal from any substance – in this case, it is cigarettes. Oh no, she’s eating more! So what? A temporary gain in weight is hardly as risky for one’s health than an addiction to nicotine, which will increase the user’s risk to heart disease, cancer, COPD, diabetes, and so on. Even worse, her smoking hurts her children’s health, who are vulnerable to second hand smoke, and are also more likely to become smokers.
Nicotine is more addictive than heroin; 32% of those who try smoking become addicted, as opposed to approximately 23% of people who use heroin. Smoking and tobacco use are insidious addictions, partly because smokers rarely see themselves as what they are: addicts. And as addicts, smokers need to detox from nicotine, utilize medications to stop smoking, and treat their smoking cessation as seriously as one would any other addiction.
But there is one big drawback to the rehab approach:
12-step groups are full of smokers who have traded in their more damaging addiction for the one that they see as benign – smoking. During my stint in rehab, I heard many justify their tobacco use as beneficial to their recovery, which it probably was. (Disclosure: I had my addictions, but was never a smoker.) However, trading one addiction for another is not a solution for the long term. The fact of the matter is smoking is not benign, nor is quitting it anything less than ending an addiction.
Update from a reader:
“Nicotine is more addictive than heroin; 32% of those who try smoking become addicted, as opposed to approximately 23% of people who use heroin.”. I think it is time to give these comparisons a break, or at least include some context. Tobacco is a legally purchased substance. Buying cigarettes is a simple as walking to the store. The availability of heroin is much more challenging. It seems to be that availability is a factor that should be considered when comparing the “addictiveness” of a drug.
Exactly one year ago my state, Washington, legalized marijuana possession and use. Though the actual “stores” don’t open until next spring, marijuana is now readily available, and the pro-active dispensaries mean that I can even get it delivered within the hour.
Prior to a year ago I’d probably smoked weed 10 times in my life. Since legalization? Ummm … Pretty much almost every single day. The difference is that I didn’t have a huge desire to violate the law previously, and did not honestly have a good idea where to find weed conveniently. For me, at least, marijuana was as “addictive” five years ago as it is today, but now it’s legal and very accessible.
An expert weighs in:
Kelly Quirino wrote, “I wander around, feeling like there’s something I’m supposed to be doing but coming up empty. I’m crabby, and sad, and my hands feel completely useless,” sounded so familiar to me. It’s what I heard over and over from the 60+ former smokers I interviewed in depth for a book that’s coming out in a week, Quit Smoking for Life. (It’s a legit, gimmick-free book, backed by the American Cancer Society and several academics, tobacco researchers, etc.)
I don’t know if you’d consider posting this, since it’s “promotional,” but if the hardcore smokers I interviewed can overcome tobacco addiction, and they did, then Quirino and your readers who smoke can as well. The reason most smokers fail their attempts to quit is that they don’t adequately prepare for how they’ll occupy their hands, mouths, and minds, or how they’ll cope with stress or with other people smoking around them.
Planning is the critical step between deciding to quit and quitting, yet most smokers just wing it – and fail. Most of the folks I interviewed had failed multiple times before finally succeeding with a mapped-out quit. They all said quitting sucked but that it was more bearable than they’d expected and that it changed them, as human beings, in ways that made them never want to return to smoking.
Writing this book gave me considerable compassion for smokers and made me loathe the tobacco industry even more than I already did.
Those with colitis should give e-cigs a try if the effective ingredient for them happens to be nicotine, not the tobacco. Perhaps they can get the relief they need without exposing themselves to the dangers of regular cigarettes.