Monday, March 03, 2008

Kicking some serious ciggy butt

So I have to admit, I'm kind of proud of myself. I've now been officially smoke-free - as in, not even a drag from a friend's cigarette some drunken evening - for the past six months. I know, I know...stupid me for ever lighting up in the first place, but we all have our flaws. And despite the damage I probably did to my lungs over those years of smoking, I'm happy I finally was able to kick the habit...particularly since so many of my friends still light up when we hit the local pub.

Believe me, this was not an easy habit to break. I spent ages talking about quitting but never truly committing to the idea. But two things happened last year that changed that mindset. I turned 30...and I lost my grandmother to cancer. I had always said I didn't want to smoke past my 20s - that my third decade of life was the time to really get serious about my long-term health. But more important than that was watching my grandmother gasp her last breath, years after she quit smoking and only weeks after her diagnosis. It was a pretty painful wakeup call. I suppose if there was any silver lining, it was that it provided the motivation to change my behavior for good.

So here's the deal. I'm not one to get on a soapbox and preach. Even chain smokers know cigarettes are bad news and can cause lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease, blah blah I'm not here to lecture anyone or scream about the impact of second-hand smoking. I'm merely going to share my own experience and hope it helps motivate someone else out there to do the same.

This is going to sound ridiculous, but honestly, the key to quitting is to truly embrace the concept. You can't half-arse it, so to speak. Invest in some smoking cessation products, such as the nicotine patch or the gum or get the prescribed medicine, if you have to. Either way, picture your life without cigarettes, wake up one morning and never look back. While some people may have found success weaning back to a lesser amount, I suggest going cold turkey. For me, I got the patch as a backup but only used it the first few times I went out drinking with friends. In addition, for the first month, I had to bail on a lot of Happy Hour get-togethers and other booze-fueled events, knowing that the more I drank, the more likely I was to crave a smoke. Fortunately, within two weeks, I no longer missed the "stress break" cigarette or the "stuck in traffic" fix. And within two months, I no longer missed the bar-related smoking jag. And now, I've actually gotten to the point where I can't stand the stale, ashtray smell in a smoky bar anymore (YAY!!!)

One other side note, I did indeed gain some weight after quitting - most of which I have since dropped through regular exercise and healthy eating. So don't use that as your excuse to keep buying packs!

Anyhoo, I'm going to end with a few more compelling reasons to help keep you on the non-smoking bandwagon, once you've made the decision. Read this article for more detail on other potential smoking-related side effects, which include:

1. Speeds up mental decline
2. Raises risk of autoimmune disease
3. Doubles the risk of SIDS
4. Raises risk of age-related macular degeneration
5. Increases risk of rheumatoid arthritis
6. Causes acid reflux
7. Leads to breast cancer

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