When smokers light up they usually are forced to do so far from human contact. And now the obvious is confirmed: Many Americans hold people who still smoke in lower regard.
One in four people say they respect a person less when he or she smokes, according to a recent Gallup poll, vs. 14% in the 1990s. Former smokers aren't more empathetic; even among current smokers, 5% have less respect for tobacco users.The good news: A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week says that, among daily smokers, the percentage who smoke 30 or more cigarettes a day dropped to 8% in 2010 (down from 13% in 2005). And today there are more tools, free advice and greater understanding of how tough it is to quit.
Despite this social marginalization — layered atop a barrage of anti-smoking ads, restrictive legislation, soaring per-pack prices, heightened pressure from employers, doctors and insurers, and the ban of smoking on 500 college campuses — 19.3% of the U.S. population still smokes.
"Just because someone has already failed once, twice or more doesn't mean they can't be successful the next time. We know that now," says Patrick Reynolds, who in 1989 started the non-profit Foundation for a Smokefree America. "Failed attempts are part of the normal journey toward becoming a non-smoker." Reynolds is the grandson of cigarette company founder R.J Reynolds and a former smoker who's spent more than two decades taking the tobacco companies to task, amassing information about the ill effects of smoking, connecting with the best scientific experts, speaking to audiences worldwide — especially school kids — and sharing much of his accumulated knowledge on his website, TobaccoFree.org.
"Most people who still smoke feel shame more than anything," he says.
Although within the ranks of smokers there are some who are outspoken, even aggressive about their right to smoke — the internet is filled with smokers' rights groups and blogs, and simmering emotion regularly erupts when smokers and nonsmokers share public turf like parks and sidewalks — Reynolds believes proud rigidity among
Towson, Md., clinical psychologist Marc Lipton says 30%-35% of his quit-smoking clients — people who are highly motivated yet repeatedly unsuccessful —"have untreated anxiety and depression," and smoking can't be addressed until those issues are. But once they are, success is more likely.
Success or failure is impacted by "overlapping variables," including genetics ("some people can smoke two or three cigarettes a week their whole lives and never increase their numbers, others escalate rapidly to three packs a day") and motivation level, he says.
Lipton, a former heavy smoker who quit when his dad died of smoking-related cancer "nine hours and 20 minutes before he would have retired," says long-term smokers "who found it relatively easier have already had success" — now it's the tougher cases who consider quitting.
Most anti-smoking campaigns give special attention to young people, hoping to dissuade them before they develop a habit and addiction that requires traveling the hard road of quitting later on. Reynolds says one of his most effective techniques is to remind young people of today's truth. "Why would you take up a habit," Reynolds asks them, "that is guaranteed to make you a social outcast?"
Is that who we are and more important, is that who we wish to be? Or do we wish to extend the hand of friendship and encouragement to our fellow addicts?
Kind words are short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly
endless. - Mother Teresa
One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of
impatience may ruin a whole life. - Chinese Proverb
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence
of our friends. - Martin Luther King Jr.
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind
word, a listening ear, an honest accomplishment, or the smallest act
of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that
is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has
nothing to eat. - Mother Teresa
If a man be gracious to strangers, it shows that he is a citizen of
the world, and his heart is no island, cut off from other islands,
but a continent that joins them. Francis Bacon