How to help a friend quit smoking

Over the years, I’ve seen it happen a few times. I’m seeing it again right now. A young guy I know, early 30s, trying to quit smoking. Pretty gung ho about it. When I said, “So, you’re gonna try to quit smoking,” he didn’t hesitate to correct me. “Not try to quit,” he emphasized, “I’m quitting.”

“Right on,” I said. What else can you say? You want to be positive to the point of boosterishness. Even if you’ve seen a whole bunch of people say the exact same thing with the exact same amount of resolve. They start out strong. They start out committed. They’re ready to do it, goddammit. And then, well, by about the 8th round, Kid Nicotine’s never-ending barrage of jolting body shots begin to take their toll.

I know it can be done. I know people do, on occasion, stop smoking. I’m being positive here, doggone it. But then again, it isn’t uncommon to see folks in the same place I now see my friend. Smoking two to three cigarettes a day, half a cig at a time, trying like hell to hold the line right there. Just hold the line at three a day. Or five.

When you come right down to it, tobacco is just a nag. One relentless, naggin’ bitch, who doesn’t ever let up. Ever. “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it dozens of times.”

I was so lucky to be an asthmatic. Usually, I don’t think of being a lifelong asthmatic as a positive, but when it came to tobacco, it sure as hell was. There was that predictable teen time when me and my pals would each steal a couple of Kents or Salems from our parents’ packs and head out to the back yard, intent on exploring this whole smoking thing. Well, being an asthmatic meant I had some pretty sensitive lungs, and I just couldn’t hack it. I couldn’t smoke a cigarette worth a damn. My friends would catch me puffing Clintonically on a Tareyton and instantly put the bust on me. “Hey come on, man, you gotta inhale it. Wimp!”

So, dutifully succumbing to this raging peer pressure, I’d choke one down. One complete cigarette. And my body, in its wisdom, reacted appropriately. If I was gonna be stubborn enough to actually inhale this junk, against its obvious wishes (cough, cough) to the contrary, it would take this game to the next level. Whereupon I would turn green and heave. Point made.

So thank you, asthma, for saving my ass from the Tobacco Dragon Queen. And to those of you trying to quit—sorry—who are quitting, I hope you get there. I really do. And if you don’t get there this time, may you be cut from the same cloth as my uncle Armen, who smoked a pack a day from age 17 to 93, only to expire when he took an unfortunate header out of a speeding golf cart.