I’m not proud of this, but I used to smoke. When I turned 21, I started hanging out with people who left the party to huddle outside in a tobacco cloud.
I never should have been smoking in the first place. During one of my opera lessons when I was 14, my vocal coach placed her hands on my lungs and told me to breathe in as long as I could, and she said, “You don’t smoke.”
Me: “Well of course I don’t smoke, I’m fourteen.”
Teacher: “You’d be surprised.”
At 21 I wasn’t sure if I had a future in music. My opera and chorus days were behind me, and I didn’t know how music fit into my future, if at all. I was in a “screw it” phase of my life. I felt invincible, like nothing bad could happen to me. I thought I was going to be out partying at the bars for years and years. It took me less than a year to realize that wasn’t the life I wanted.
By the time I turned 22, I was buying my own packs of cigarettes weekly. I smoked after eating, after work, and whenever I had some drinks with friends. This was around the time I started becoming more adult, and I had a real decision to make.
Below are the factors that made me quit smoking once and for all.
1. Exercise-Induced Asthma
I have been active my entire life. I’ve always loved hiking, sailing, walking, and running. I have always loved looking healthy and feeling my best. But when I turned 22, something strange happened.
I went to the gym like I normally did three times a week, and I ran on the treadmill for about an hour, but I felt different. Instead of my lungs being able to handle the activity, they wheezed with every breath. I couldn’t take a breath without my lungs whistling. And the wheezing didn’t stop until much later, when my heart rate went down.
I went to the doctor, and they gave me a small red inhaler that I was supposed to take a hit from before and after I exercised. This inhaler made me feel high, and I felt uncomfortable driving after inhaling from it.
It was also the first sign I had that my smoking habit was destroying my lungs. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t be as active as I wanted to be, because my lungs couldn’t handle it. If I needed to inhale steroids every time I wanted to exercise, what did that mean for my pulmonary health? There was no secret it was the cigarettes.
2. Being a Nanny to two wonderful children
When I was in college, I took some internships that left a bad taste in my mouth for office life. So when I graduated, I didn’t think office work was the answer for me. Instead, I took a nanny job to an infant and a four year old not far from my house. I read them books, played outside with them, took them to museums, and we danced around to music together.
One major thing I learned from my time with these children was that I didn’t have to smoke. Of course I wasn’t going to smoke around children, and I couldn’t take smoke breaks, because I had nobody helping me. Not only that, but I didn’t want children to smell cigarette smoke on me. I wanted to set a good example.
Dancing with toddlers to Hakuna Matata feels better than lighting up a smoke. Any day.
3. Researching what smoking literally does to the lungs
My friends and I made every excuse in the book that supported our smoking habit, but I wanted to dive deeper and see what damage was actually caused by smoking. Was I educated by a bunch of alarmists that blew the risks of tobacco out of proportion? I investigated.
It didn’t take much research to put down the cigarette. Our lungs are balloon-like and soft. There are tiny hairs called cilia that trap particles and prevent against dirt and infection. Smoking cigarettes coats these cilia in sticky tar. This sticky tar covers the thousands of tiny air sacks that make up the lungs, and it prevents them from functioning the way they should.
Now, smoke-free for 6 years, I sometimes inhale as deep as I can to appreciate what my lungs do for me.
4. Incessant Gum chewing
When I quit smoking, I realized that so much of my addiction was an oral fixation. I’m not sure if I ever was addicted to nicotine, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been addicted to anything. I don’t have an addictive personality, but I know I love my oral fixations. I sucked my thumb when I was a kid, and smoking was probably connected to the comforting feeling of having something to suck on.
So I reached for the gum. I chewed until I was minty fresh. I got all my frustrations out through the chew. It may not have been great for my teeth and jaws, but it was a hell of a lot better than getting throat or mouth cancer.
5. Quitting with someone else
I met my husband right before I quit smoking. I think I was successful in quitting because he decided to quit too. C attended five grueling years of Transportation Design school at DAAP in Cincinnati, and he chain smoked while working all throughout the night.
Both of C’s parents fought cancer (and are still fighting!). He knew he had to put down the cigarettes. We both quit, and we supported each other.
6. The smoking cessation app Smoke Free
When it comes to quitting an addiction, I realized I couldn’t rely on willpower alone. I needed any help I could get. I downloaded the Smoke Free App, which gave me real-time notifications on how my health was improving since my last cigarette. And when I craved a cigarette? All I had to do was open the app for motivation. Reading about what smoking did to my health (and wallet) was enough to distract my brain for a second to get over the desire to smoke.
Friends, stop smoking. Seriously. Our lungs mature around age 25, and their function begins to decline around 35. Chances are, you’re running out of time to improve your lung health. Read more about lung health at the American Lung Association. Educate yourself. Put down the cigarette.