I have decided to air one of my more strongly-held opinions. My step-father passed away a few weeks ago, and after writing his eulogy, I want to add a plea to the general public – Please, please, if you smoke – Stop. If not for yourself, then for your loved ones’s sake (I am including but not mentioning other uses of tobacco). My step-father struggled through almost 10 years of increasing sickness, pain, loss of independence and dignity that is thankfully over now; but it is fairly clear that his habit of smoking almost 2 packs a day for decades was, if not the only cause, at least a main cause for his suffering.
They say ex-smokers are the worst persecutors of those who smoke. Well, I am not an ex-smoker. But I was born addicted to nicotine and probably inhaled enough second-hand smoke to qualify as a “normal” smoker! I grew up in a “4-pack” home – between my mother and step-father, about 4 packs of cigarettes were smoked in a day (although this certainly went up and down over the years as my step-father tried every single thing he could to stop at various times). Walking through our living room at night meant having your head in the cloud – literally – of cigarette smoke. I know this isn’t probably the norm but it is what I grew up with. I remember very clearly the day I “quit.” As anybody who grew up in the US in the 80’s knows, anti-smoking campaigns were common and especially directed at the young. I remember asking my parents after receiving some sort of anti-smoking thing at school – “Did you _know_ that your lungs will turn black? And you’re at risk of getting bad sicknesses?”, etc – and I was so shocked when they admitted that they already knew all of this – yet they were still smoking! But that’s not when I “quit” – that happened sometime between 6 and 9 years old, when I realized that I always leaned forward to inhale the smoke from my parents’ cigarettes when they first lit up. To me, that realization meant that I was smoking too; and I decided to stop. As I got older, I used various strategies like always having my bedroom windows open, always having my door and heating vent closed, asking for a car window to be opened at least a little during drives (ha! nowadays in CA it’s against the law to even smoke with kids in the car! How things change…), etc, to reduce the amount of smoke I inhaled. It didn’t change the fact that I must have smelled of smoke, because I was asked regularly from 4th grade on if I was a smoker. But I suppose that my little “strategies” helped; I do have an unusually high sensitivity to anything airborne but for the most part I breathe ok now. I think it must have helped, because my little brother had to have a breathing test during a work physical and his lung capacity tested far lower than it should have for his age and health; after the doctor discovered, however, that he had grown up in a smoke-heavy environment he said that my brother’s results were normal for second-hand smokers….!
It was watching my step-father suffer (first with COPD/emphysema, then cancer in his bones) that turned my strong feelings against smoking from my childhood to actual moments of rage. After visiting him, and then seeing a young stranger/parent/kid/grandma light up in public I had times where I wanted to just walk up and smack them upside the head and say “Do you have ANY idea what you’re doing??!” Don’t worry – I haven’t – thank God for the gift of self-control. 😉
I especially struggle with the choice of other believers in Christ to smoke. I have heard the “Christian liberty” arguments. Yes, smoking is not forbidden in the Bible – duh – nobody had cigarettes or any form of tobacco back then. Yes, the Bible says we are “permitted everything” – but not everything is beneficial! It has been decades since anyone (at least in Western societies, I can’t speak for others) could truthfully say that they thought smoking was good for you. Today everybody knows that smoking is bad. If you are a believer in Christ, you are free – do not allow yourself to be made a slave of smoking. Do not call “Christian liberty” what is actually “Christian stupidity.”
Actually, side note, one of my mother’s friends told me that his mother was advised, by her _doctor_, to START smoking during pregnancy to keep the weight off! Seriously! But this was about 1920. And smoking during pregnancy has now been proven to addict the newborn baby of a smoking mother to nicotine, so that in the first few days of their lives these new babies have to endure withdrawal as well as the normal stresses of starting life as breathing creatures (and there is a link between maternal smoking and infants having difficulty breathing at birth). These symptoms may not be as terrible as what the “crack babies” have to deal with – but WHY make your child suffer? One study found that “The “nicotine” infants were more excitable, abnormally tense and rigid, required more handling and showed greater stress, specifically in their central nervous, gastrointestinal and visual systems.” If you are a smoking pregnant mother, please consider this and consider stopping at least for the pregnancy! And know what a gift you will be giving your child on their birth. And if can stop for that long, keep it up during breastfeeding! Smoking while breastfeeding passes cigarette chemicals to the baby, as well as other bad side effects, so if you can stop for at least the first 6 months of baby’s life you will be doing the both of you some tremendous good.
Now, I know it is hard to quit. Nobody, least of all me, would deny that it can seem a sheer impossibility. And to quit, you have to know why you “can’t” – what is it that is holding you captive. I don’t know that. But I can tell you that if you are thinking that smoking gives you some kind of “benefit” – it relaxes you, it helps you calm down, etc – then you are believing a lie. Nicotine is proven to have the exact opposite effect. A cup of tea would be of more real effect….in fact, just taking a walk would probably too! I am guessing that the only real “relaxation or relief” a person feels on lighting up is dealing with the symptoms of withdrawal…and that can physically be done with a nicotine patch or piece of gum. There are so many options out there….so when you feel ready, find one that works for you.
Please. Please. Please.