Campus up in smoke: Quitting for myself (and others)

Addiction is something every human can understand. Love, coffee, cigarettes, television, favorite foods, exercise, meds, the gas in your car and countless other vices and habits we nurture or loathe or deny.

Mary Wardell: Features Editor

Mary Wardell: Features Editor

Anything can be habit-forming, because human beings rely on routine for survival. We get comfort out of the familiar. But some habits are harder to quit than others.

Full disclosure: I have a few addictions. My boyfriend, coffee and yoga are a few. And unfortunately, cigarettes too. These things are, to varying degrees, necessary to my homeostasis.

Initially indignant about NMU’s tobacco-free policy, I felt adamant that smoking is my right. It’s my body.

The impacts of second-hand smoke when standing outside are negligible, especially with enforcement of the 30-foot-from-the-door rule, and the fact people can easily stand or walk plenty of places not right beside a smoker.

Meat is an addiction, too. And sugar. Both can cause disease and shorten your life.

Every time I tell anyone my dad utterly reversed his poor heart health by going vegan and cutting out fat (in one month, without medication, shocking his doctors), few seem interested in encouraging that kind of prevention. So there are double standards when it comes to health, and smoking happens to be an easy target.

If I get some sick existential comfort out of participating in my own gradual death, or I like the pause of meditative reflection, or the conversations I have while smoking, it’s my prerogative, I thought.

But I can rationalize until the cows come home, I realized, because I’m addicted to nicotine.

And I have to admit, that’s the only real reason I smoke. Ultimately, none of my arguments against the ban really hold up in my mind. The ban feels extreme, as prohibition always is. But it’s just on campus.

And there is a great deal to be gained from banning tobacco on campus. For one thing, I and my fellow smokers won’t be normalizing smoking for impressionable freshman on their own for the first time. Fewer students will fall prey to the addiction.

Then there’s the tough love wake-up call to all smokers: if you can’t wait to get off campus for a cigarette, learn to.

Sometimes rules (like dreaded deadlines) are the best way to get something done (or undone). Humans need help. My body is not just my own. It is deeply connected to the people I care about and who care about me. We are interdependent on each other, and when one person makes a healthy choice, it has ripple effects. And vice versa.

So I may not be thanking anyone now or when I’m going through the terrible withdrawal. (Smokers, my heart is with you whenever and however you quit, and I hope you do.)

But when I’m eventually unburdened of this addiction, I will be thankful. I’ll be thanking the smokers who have quit before me and all the nonsmokers who empathized and didn’t judge. And I’ll be thanking NMU for refusing to accept my excuses.

3 Comments

  • Audrey
    April 17, 2014 | Permalink |

    Love the transformation of perspective.

  • April 17, 2014 | Permalink |

    Great column, just brilliant. I spoke at NMU April 8th, in support of the smoking ban, and remember meeting you. I hope you’ll read Smokefree America’s quit smoking tips, online and free at http://www.Anti-smoking.org/quitting.htm There are a few things listed there that will reduce your stress in quitting — perhaps by just a little bit, but that little difference might be enough to help you avoid relapse this go-round.

    In the 12 Step programs like AA and Nicotine Anonymous, the first step is to admit you are poweless over the substance — in short, to come out of denial that “It’s my choice,” and admit you have an overpowering, out of control addiction. That is known as the First Step.

    There’s also a step about turning it over to a higher power. Somewhere in the literature, too, it is noted that “Alcohol is cunning, baffling and powerful.” Why cunning? Because addicts find all sorts of rationalizations to justify using and staying users.

    In the initiation I gave to students who attended my talk (online at http://www.tobaccofree.org/children.htm#initiation ), I noted that many adults avoid their pain by using alcohol, tobacco, drugs — and even food and music. Face your pain, I said, and talk to someone about it. That was the core message of the initiation. In quitting smoking, it means get help and get into a program. I also like the quitting system at http://www.BecomeAnEx.org by the way — recommended. It’s time to grow up. Only a baby gets what they want whenever they want it. Most adults have to wait for gratification, and those who dont are weak. Some of my family members who were never could quit smoking, drinking or overeating are good examples. I have had my own battles with smoking.

    I hope your column is shared and re-shared. I honor your courage, strength and determination. You can do it! And thanks for supporting the upcoming ban at NMU, starting August first. By then you’ll have a few smokefree months under your belt. Parting message: You can do it!

  • April 19, 2014 | Permalink |

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