Smoking sucks. There is nothing cool about it. There is nothing sexy about it. There is only, bad air, bad breath, and bad health. And don’t forget the dingy yellow walls and bad-smelling clothes. Yuck. It’s so awful, I smoked for over twenty years and regret every single one. I lost both a brother and a sister to smoking and my other brother had a heart attack and started smoking again. I know how hard it is to quit but I did it. This is how I quit smoking.

I spent years trying to quit. Always used it as a New Year’s resolution and always failed within a day or two. I even carried a magazine article that listed all the health benefits of quitting. I read it regularly. But that didn’t help. Or maybe it did, maybe, I was just slow. I carried it around for seven years before I quit.

I wasn’t planning on quitting when I did. It happened in less than a week, and maybe that was my success. I didn’t have any time to plan. Previous attempts involved me picking a date–usually weeks out–then preparing by trying to smoke less or smoke more to (laughingly) get my fill. Those attempts didn’t work.

I wanted to be healthy, and I even had healthy friends who liked to hike. But when I hiked with them, they’d always have to wait for me or slow themselves down to stay with me. Not fun, for them or me.

One weekend, I drove three friends from Connecticut to Virginia and dropped them off on the Appalachian Trail. A week later, I would drive back and pick them up at a designated point.  When I drove them down, I was a smoker.  Although kind, by not smoking in my car with them, I did grab a cigarette at every rest stop—which meant I stank up the car with the smell of smoke.  

The Monday after I returned home from dropping them off, I took my mother for a stress test.  Having only smoked a week in her entire life, she was heaving on that treadmill after they barely started the test.  As I watched her struggle, I realized that she was 83 and then realized that if I didn’t stop smoking soon, I would be like that by 53.

I bought nicotine patches on Saturday knowing that I would be driving back to Virginia to pick up my friends. On Saturday night, I smoked my last cigarette—but didn’t throw the pack out.  The next morning, I put a patch on and then put that pack of cigarettes in the pocket behind the driver’s seat and pushed it all the way down so I couldn’t reach it while driving.  

My thinking was that if I really wanted a cigarette, I could get one, but I was going to have to pull over and dig down into the seat pocket to get it.  Not the easiest of things to plan for considering some of the highways I would be traveling on.

Twenty-one years later…..I still haven’t picked up another cigarette.  I’m not saying those first 10 weeks were easy.  I sucked on a cinnamon stick for almost a year because my finger missed holding a cigarette.  At the end of 10 weeks, the day the last patch came off, I was doing my first hut hike in the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

What ultimately made me successful was something personal, seeing my mother heaving on the treadmill. I think most people will have to find that one personal thing too.  I’ve come to realize that it’s not necessarily a health scare that will do it. My sister had a lobe of her lung removed from cancer but kept smoking even though she tried to hide it from everyone.

My brother had a heart attack last year. He went through a smoking cessation program and lung rehabilitation. He has COPD now and he still starting smoking again. He hasn’t found that thing, that one personal thing that will make him quit for good.

But it is possible to quit. I did it after smoking more than a pack a day for over 20 years.  That nicotine patch was a big part of my success, as was my trusty cinnamon sticks. If you’re wondering why cinnamon, the size of one is about the same as a cigarette, and since they are hollow, you can suck on them. It satisfied my kinesthetic needs.

The nicotine patch worked for me but it doesn’t work for everyone. There are side effects, including dreams or hallucinations. I was affected by those, but I just wrote the dreams in my journal and kept going because I knew I wouldn’t be successful otherwise. It’s best to check with your Doctor to get advice and support. There are more options to help you quit now than twenty years ago.

If you are looking for help in quitting smoking, go right to the American Lung Association. The Great American Smoke Out is the Third Thursday of November but it’s only one day a year. The best day to quit is the first day you quit. And no matter what, don’t stop trying until you succeed. Trust me, you’ll feel (and smell) so much better.