Many smokers tell themselves that smoking and quitting is their private business, but according to smoking cessation expert Dr. Daniel Seidman, it really is a family affair.
Bringing up the thorny topic of smoking with family members who continue to smoke is difficult. In our culture, conversations about smoking and quitting have become even more uncomfortable than talking about sex or money. If one person in a family full of smokers is trying to quit, the conversations and negotiations can become even more fraught. Will all the smokers quit together, or will someone continue to puff away around the quitter-to-be? And don't forget relapses kept secret from the family, and the guilt that smokers go through about them.
Many people seem to believe that if you can't quit smoking relatively easily, then it may be too difficult—even impossible—for you. This leads to a bunker mentality and causes some people to shut down and refuse to discuss the whole issue. I find the pessimism about quitting very sad because I've worked with so many "hopeless" cases who were really not hopeless at all; they just needed to learn how to solve a problem that was overwhelming them.
One of the biggest impacts of smoking on family life comes from the shocking amount of severe health problems and disability it causes. For a pregnant woman who smokes, her unborn child is at risk for preterm delivery, stillbirth, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. A father who smokes at home or in the car puts his family at risk for severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections and ear infections. And children whose parents smoke are more likely to become smokers themselves.
I've had many older people—smokers and nonsmokers alike—tell me they aren't so much afraid of dying, but of becoming disabled and dependent on those they love. As smokers age, they have more doctor visits and less independence than nonsmokers. In fact, for every smoker who dies from smoking, 20 more live with a serious illness from it. Smoking takes away the independence that many aging people prize most.
Smoking and quitting inevitably become life-and-death issues for families. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that cigarette smoking accounts "for approximately 443,000 deaths or 1 of every 5 deaths in the United States each year." This averages to more than 1,000 smokers lost every day...an epidemic that claims—every three days—as many people as were killed on 9/11. Although this epidemic unfolds in a largely silent and unrecognized manner, the magnitude of smoking-caused premature death leaves traumatized survivors in its wake. It is hard for people to grasp that 30 percent of all cancer patients and 30 percent of all heart disease patients in the U.S. are being treated for illnesses caused by smoking. In the end, smoking kills half of all long-term smokers. Twenty-five percent of all long-term smokers will eventually lose an average of 20 to 25 years of life expectancy.
My father was one of these smokers who lost his life in middle age. I would like to tell his story with the hope and wish that it may help other families with members who still smoke. My father was born in the Bronx, New York, into an orthodox Jewish family in 1921. His father owned a candy store, and his mother died when he was 2 years old. He was nicknamed "Witch" as a kid because he wore high black socks that made him look like a witch when he played stickball in the street. The nickname stuck for life.
He was a good student, studying while working at the candy store and other jobs like selling pennants at baseball games. He attended the City College of New York, which was then affectionately called the "Harvard of the proletariat." He played college basketball in the days of Red Holzman. He loved the great discussions that took place in the famous City College cafeteria. He wanted to study journalism, but his father insisted he become an accountant instead.
Although he earned his living as an accountant, my father's true avocation and love was music. Listening to music was an almost sacred activity in my house, and we were strictly forbidden to touch my father's Bogen amplifier and record player. When he listened to the great composers at home or at a concert, it was with a reverence usually reserved for a house of God.
When I was young, my father would write songs while commuting on the train to work, and then sing them to us when he got home. He was always bringing over pianists to write down the notes and words on lead sheets so he could get them copyrighted. Living in the heyday of great Broadway musicals, he dreamed of someday having an opening night himself for one of the musicals he created.
Another thing about my father—he smoked like a chimney. You name it: cigars, pipes and, of course, tons of cigarettes. He smoked day and night. When he was 45, he developed heart trouble and had to give up his beloved backyard and move closer to his work in New York City. One night we were all watching Johnny Carson on late-night TV, and my father had a stroke. It seemed like an eternity for the ambulance to arrive. He quit smoking, but his heart was severely damaged. The doctors considered recommending a heart transplant with pioneering South African surgeon Dr. Christiaan Bernard, but it was too late.
Just as he had written many songs about his beliefs and feelings about life, my father wrote a song, called "Away I Go," about his death.
Away I go into thin air I now have no-one to share
Away I go into thin air as if I really don't care
I never bothered to say good-bye, I found it much too hard to try
Away I go, how could you know, that I still love you so?
— Murray Seidman (1921-1968)
Has smoking robbed you of time with a loved one? Or are you finally ready to quit? Share your story in the comments area.
Dr. Daniel Seidman is a clinical psychologist and director of the smoking cessation service at Columbia University Medical Center. He is the author of Smoke-Free in 30 Days: The Pain-Free, Permanent Way to Quit—which has a foreword by Dr. Oz. For more details about the book, visit DanielFSeidman.com.
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Printed from Oprah.com on Monday, March 10, 2014
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