I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Pfizer, Inc. and the Coverys Foundation to write about smoking cessation. All opinions are my own.
“You can’t smell it, It’s going out the window!”
That’s what my mom used to tell me back in the 80s and 90s when I’d complain while she puffed on a cigarette in the car. She was 100% wrong, I could definitely still smell it, and it always made my stomach churn.
In the late 90s, my sister followed her lead and became a smoker too, while I sat in silent (loud) judgment about their terrible life decisions. I’d sit there and stare at them out of the corner of my eye thinking about how disgusting, stinky, and deadly those things were, not at all understanding their appeal. My mom’s eldest brother, Noel died in 1998 from lung cancer. He was a 4-pack a day smoker. A Florida Highway Patrolman.
His vice killed him.
Even that didn’t wake the rest of my family up. I was the child who pleaded with mom off and on for my entire childhood. When Uncle Noel died, I thought for sure she would see the light. Especially since he was the second of three of my mom’s brothers to pass away. Did she really want to be next?
And she continued to smoke on. Sure, she’d stop for a day or 8 but it rarely lasted long and she was always afraid she would gain weight, so she would start again. I continued not to understand how someone could continuously make such poor decisions about their health. Bungee jumping? Cool. Smoking cigarettes? Not so much.
In 2010, we went on a family trip to Miami. Madilyn was 10 months old at the time and when we got to Miami I felt really strange. I was kind of nauseated, but not really. My boobs really hurt, but I was still nursing so I wasn’t sure if Madilyn was having some sort of strange spurt that was causing some engorgement or what. I decided to take a pregnancy test before we went to Versailles Cafe where I planned to indulge in a Mojito.
Do you even have to guess what that little stick said? No, you don’t. It definitely said I was pregnant, as did the second one.
My mom also got some interesting news on that trip. She had been coughing up a lung for over a month at that point but continued to press on like she was ok, and kept smoking like a damn chimney, drawing ragged breaths between inhales. By the time our 3 day trip was over, she went to the hospital because things had become so bad.
They found a mass on her lung and said they suspected she had lung cancer.
I think it could be said I generally have a fight response, but this time my response was to flee – because my fight response was so high. I was infuriated. I was infuriated that my mom cared so little about me that she had continued to put her health at risk. I was infuriated that she cared so little for her grandchildren that she had continued to put her (and their) health at risk. I was infuriated that I was carrying a third child that she might never meet because she didn’t want to gain weight.
So I left her in the hospital in Orlando and drove home to Savannah without telling her. I had nothing nice to say and she always told me to stay quiet if I didn’t have anything nice to say, so I was just being a good daughter after all.
My flight response upset her and when they realized that the mass was a clump of scar tissue from what wound up being a massive infection in her lungs, she had a hard time forgiving me. When we finally reconciled, she came up for a visit and I pressed her to please stop smoking. During a walk in the mall, we found these cool eCigarette things. Back then they looked like cigarettes so they could give her the illusion of smoking and help her ease back so that she could eventually quit.
What I didn’t know at the time is that vaping is not an approved or even effective alternative on the path to smoking cessation. The vendor promised us that this alternative was safe, but from the very beginning, eCigarettes hit the market without regulatory review of safety or efficacy. To date, eCigarette and Vape manufacturers still haven’t bothered to gain approval from the FDA as a way to quit smoking, and they have not gained approval as a reduced harm tobacco product.
My mom is still alive, yes. She has now graduated from those little low dose nicotine eCigarettes to more nicotine Vaping and continues to have issues with her lungs. And now I struggle with my role in getting her to use this as a better alternative when there were already some great alternatives on the market that are both approved and effective. I wish I had known back then that the most effective ways to quit smoking altogether are a combination of counseling and the use of a smoking cessation aid such as nicotine gum, lozenges, patches, inhalers, or nasal spray or prescribed smoking cessation medication (Chantix/vaerenicline orand Zyban/Wellbutrin/bupropion).
I’ve struggled talking to Mom and my sister who both use Vapes like babies use pacifiers. I know that historically I haven’t been a safe space for them or supportive in productive ways, and coming up with conversations that won’t put one of us on the defensive about this subject is still really hard. I find myself sneaking it in when they talk about being strapped with finances.
“Well, how much more could you afford if you didn’t buy Vape Juice this week?”
With the increased concern over COVID-19, I feel like it’s a good time to bring it up again. People who smoke and contract COVID-19 tend to have more severe cases, and again, I can’t imagine the thought of my kids not having all of their grandparents around to love on them for years to come based on an addiction that they could, with some work and commitment, overcome.
I get that it’s hard, but I’m committed to being a support system for my family now, because if I continue to push them away about this, I might ruin any ounce of influence I have with them, and I really don’t feel good about that.
If you or someone you know knows that they need to stop smoking or vaping, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW. Or if the telephone makes you uncomfortable, check out all of the fantastic resources at http://smokefree.gov.
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