Confessions of a reformed smoker
March 8 is National No Smoking Day, a day designed to reach out to friends or family members who suffer from nicotine addiction, and encourage them to quit. If you or someone you know smokes, draw inspiration from the story of former smoker Ron Aaron Eisenberg.
My name is Ron and I’m a reformed smoker. Until I quit in 1977 I was a three-pack a day smoker. Every day. All year long. That was 21,900 cigarettes a year. That’s a lot of cigarettes.
I was born in 1942. In the 1940s and ‘50s, cigarette smoking was embraced by young and old alike. People smoked in trains, planes, and automobiles. At work, in hospitals, and at home. Smoking was portrayed as sexy. It was what attractive, successful people did. At least that’s what the advertising promised.
When televisions became treasured household fixtures, smoking was featured in TV dramas, sitcoms, and talk shows. Newspaper and magazine advertisements featured celebrities puffing away. Cigarette companies even incorporated “doctors” endorsing cigarette brands as safe to smoke.
I had started smoking when I was fifteen or sixteen years old. My parents had smoked. But they quit in the early 1950’s. I remember the day. They were packing for a trip to New York to visit family. My dad was tossing packs of Chesterfield cigarettes into their suitcase. Pack after pack after pack. He suddenly stopped and turned to my mom, “Evelyn, what are we doing? We need to stop smoking.” And they did. Just like that. Cold turkey. Long before the U.S. Surgeon General, in 1964, issued his warning on the dangers of cigarette smoking.
The Surgeon General’s report and subsequent bans on advertising cigarettes on TV, began to change public perception about cigarette smoking. The link between smoking and lung cancer was well established.
By the end of 1965, the tobacco industry was required to put labels on its products and in its advertisements to warn the public of the health risks associated with smoking. Yet millions of Americans continued to smoke, including me. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimated some 400,000 people died every year as a result of cigarette smoking. That’s still true today.
So what prompted me to quit smoking in 1977? The catalyst was the pending birth of my son, Mitch. I knew, intuitively, that if I did not want him to smoke, I had to quit. Otherwise, no matter what I said, my smoking would lead to his smoking.
I found a paperback book with self-help tips on how to quit smoking. I don’t remember the title or the name of the author. I do remember the primary recommendation was to quit “one cigarette at a time.” The book detailed a mental trick to say to yourself when you had the urge for a cigarette, “I choose not to smoke this cigarette.” That’s what I did. I quit cold turkey. One cigarette at a time.
It wasn’t easy. Friends and family told me I was a grump. A real grump. But in a week or so I no longer craved cigarettes and my mood began to soften. That was in 1977. I have not had a cigarette since. But I know, without a question of a doubt, if I smoked one cigarette, I’d be right back where I was. Smoking 21,900 cigarettes and year and smelling like an old, used ashtray.
And nobody wants to smell like an ashtray.
Ron Aaron Eisenberg, M.A., J.D., co-hosts two WellMed radio shows and podcasts – Caregiver SOS on Air and Docs in a Pod. He and his wife, Gina Galaviz Eisenberg, who never smoked, live in San Antonio, Texas.