July 15, 1994 Halifax Herald

Tobacco addiction a major health problem: treat it with care, not clubs

May 5th was a hallmark in my life: the passage of the anniversary of the 4th year since I quit smoking. The addictive hold nicotine had over me was to the tune of three and a half large packages a day. For the uninitiated, this translates into 90 cigarettes per day, or 32,850 per year.

When I first announced my intention to quit, my family, friends and co-workers reacted with a large dose of scepticism. And to be perfectly candid, with the acute withdrawal symptoms I was experiencing, on more than one occasion during the first two years I almost caved in.

I now feel that, in all probability, I will never smoke again! I qualify my statement because I know, if I were to have just one cigarette, the horror of being hooked again would be mine. And if one were to ask me if I could ever quit again, the answer is an unequivocal no. My answer would be the same even in the event of being told by my doctor that, if I didn't quit, it would mean a death sentence for me. I went through the same hell twice; to do it again is, for me, unthinkable.

At the age of twenty, after smoking for approximately twelve years, I finally drummed up the courage to quit. For the next year and a half, I went through a living hell, but eventually beat it, or so I thought. Then one night, while out night-clubbing with friends, the smoke from other people's cigarettes smelled so good that I decided to have one. That one cigarette plunged me back into the addiction.

Almost immediately, I wanted to quit smoking again; over the following years I would make several attempts. These failed attempts would last for no more than a day to two. Thirty years passed before I drummed up enough courage and determination to make a genuine effort to quit the weeds again.

Of the four years that I've managed to stay off the nicotine and tar, the first was the worst. To keep my sanity during this period, I completely renovated our house and started writing a major book, We Were Not the Savages. I had to keep myself occupied constantly. The second year was not quite so bad; probably the fact that I was still deeply involved in writing a book was the saving grace for me. During the third year, the craving began to ease off considerably and I finally came to the conclusion that I just might have the addiction beat. Thankfully, during the fourth year, strong cravings for the weed came over me only occasionally. Today, most times, I can actually think and write about smoking without wanting a cigarette.

To check to see if I were not alone in this kind of battle for freedom from the drug, I talked to acquaintances who had managed to quit. Here are just two quotes: "For the first three or four years after quitting, I would sometimes in my sleep dream of smoking, I would wake up crying thinking of what I would have to go through again to quit." "After fifteen years of being off smokes, I sometimes see someone having a cigarette and get an urge to take it away from them and finish it myself."

Why did I subject myself to the trauma of quitting smoking? It wasn't for financial reasons because, as a Micmac, I can buy all the cheap smokes I want. I quit because I felt it was having a negative effect upon my health. To be truthful, since quitting, I do feel about 20 years younger and food smells and tastes a lot better.

The best thing one can do with cigarettes is to never start smoking them. And the best way to prevent people from taking up the addiction is through education. Letís begin to teach young children about the damage the drug can do. We can start by making videos to show them of people dying of lung cancer, emphysema and so on. These explicit videos, for maximum effectiveness, could be shown in classrooms starting in grade primary and continued through elementary and high-school years. Will education do the trick? I think it will. I have two daughters who don't smoke because both my wife (who was also a smoker) and I taught them at an early age the health dangers involved, and the stupidity of sitting around inhaling the smoke from a useless drug.

Smoking, my friends, is a strong addiction that can have disastrous effects upon a person's mental well-being. I would like to pass a word or two along to those who think that a truly addicted smoker can just wake up one morning, say "I quit" and that's the end of it. It can't be done.

I respectfully request that those who have these simplistic notions find out the true nature of the addiction. Then perhaps you can have some compassion and mercy for nicotine addicted people and stop trying to club them into submission with taxes and other methods. Treat nicotine/tar addiction for what it is - one of the worst addictions known. With help and encouragement, some of the people addicted can overcome their curse; but there are those who can never do it, and for them I feel the utmost compassion. Letís tackle this major health problem with wisdom, compassion and humanity, and stop trying to solve it with the brutality of a bunch of sadists!

Daniel N. Paul


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