Cigarettes seduced me slowly. At first, they helped me to lose weight, keeping my mouth busy between meals. Then I began to depend on them when I was anxious, angry, sad, and in social situations. Cigarettes became my constant companion, in sickness and in health. May 31 is the WHO’s World No Tobacco Day, and it’s about time I start envisioning a smoke-free world for myself and for those around me.

For me, a smoke free world is hard to imagine. The addiction is so strong that quitting drinking (which I have done, by the way) seems like an easy task compared to giving up smoking. I am constantly shamed for my habit, I’m taxed heavily, and I was recently diagnosed with pneumonia (twice!) plus I suffer from some eye degeneration that I’ve been told would improve if I quit. All this said, you’d think I would have already given up the nasty habit, right?

Keeping my addiction alive and well is hard work. Hiding outside restaurants, buying expensive cigarettes, making sure I don’t run out, and carrying on only half conversations in social gatherings interrupted by my need to get my nicotine fix, is annoying and time consuming. No, being addicted to smoking isn’t fun. But I need the ‘rush’ of nicotine to function—the addiction is as much physical as it is psychological.

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This year, I have decided I will do away with this habit. I will quit smoking for myself, because I can’t do it for anyone else and I can’t blame anyone else for my problem—that doesn’t work for me just as it doesn’t work for any addict. I have to take responsibility for myself and I can’t blame cigarette companies, just as I cannot blame the alcohol industry for my alcoholism. I am the one who started smoking. I knew where it would lead and I knew it was destined to become a destructive part of my life. Such is the dysfunctional nature of addiction.

Cigarettes have been my crutches, my friends, my lovers, my companions in this lonely place called addiction. They never let me down, yet they conspire to kill me. According to WebMD, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths. Today, smoking causes almost nine out of ten lung cancer deaths, while radon gas, pollution, and other chemical exposures play a much smaller role.

The early signs of lung cancer may include:

  • A persistent cough that won’t go away
  • Chest pain, especially when taking deep breaths
  • Wheezing and/or shortness of breath
  • Coughing up bloody phlegm
  • Fatigue

There are no easy or sure cures for lung cancer, just like there is no easy way to quit smoking. But reading about the effects of cancer, especially if you already have some early signs of illness, might make it easier to start a personal journey towards quitting.

The American Cancer Society suggests getting emotional support to quit, since for most people, addictive behavior stems from prior emotional problems. People may benefit from combining talk therapy with whatever physical withdrawal method they choose, whether it’s going it cold turkey, using the nicotine patch or electronic cigarettes.

There good news is that smokers who decide to quit reap almost immediate benefits, according to the American Cancer Society.

  • 20 minutes after quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure go down.
  • 12 hours after quitting, the carbon monoxide levels in blood drop to normal.
  • 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting, your circulation improves and lung function increases.
  • 1 to 9 months after quitting, the persistent ‘smoker’s cough and shortness’ of breath decrease, and the cilia in the lungs start to function normally and increase the ability to clean the lungs and reduce risk of infection.

Keep your long-term goal in mind and as any twelve step program teaches us, to take it one day at a time. Focus on not smoking in the present moment and it won’t seem like such an impossible feat. If we can make May 31 World No Tobacco Day and go without smoking for an entire day, why can’t we make it a lifetime? A smoke free world starts one day at a time…

If you or a loved one smokes and wants to quit, check out these resources.