My cousin recently texted to let me know that she managed to quit smoking with the help of her family doctor and vareniciline (Champix). She's in her late 20s and has a rheumatalogical condition that is made worse by smoking. Things I did not say to her:
- It's about time!
- Be careful! Temptation is around every corner!
- You've already done so much damage!
- Why even bother, this isn't doing to last.
What I did say to her:
The hope is that no matter how she does with this quit attempt, she can always share her progress and her downfalls. If someone is confiding in you that they've made this huge leap, they're asking you to help them with accountability and it is crucial that you build them up in the process. But, build them up in a way that tells them you believe in them no matter what happens, especially if they relapse.
Smoking is bad for you. The heart, lungs, brain, liver and gut all get pretty beat up by cigarrettes and their nasty brew of preservatives and toxins. Hair gets smelley. Nails get grody. Teeth get Beetle-juicey. Duh. No one doesn’t know this. In fact, smokers know it best.
Yet, public health departments around the globe hire marketing firms to spread the ‘smoking is bad for you, don’t do it’ metaphor in all sorts of visually-provoking multimedia. There’s the “she was such a pretty girl!” take.
The “Smoking is soooo not cool, guys” snarky, reverse-psychology approach gets used often too.
“Smoking kills” is pretty common.
And then there’s the whole “Cigarettes turn you into an addicted slave and take away your control. You don’t want to lose control, do you?” angle. One inhalation and you’re hooked!
Telling people that smoking will make them ugly, stupid slaves is not the way to go. In fact, this makes it worse because the target of these ads starts to believe that they are ugly, stupid slaves which makes them want to smoke even more. Soon, they identify themselves with the community of ‘smokers’. Do you really think that telling Barack Obama he should quit smoking because it will rot his insides is going to help him ‘see the light’? No, because he’s just a tad more preoccupied by being the leader of the free world and smoking takes the edge off of what is a pretty stressful gig.
And yet. The public health dollars keep on rolling towards one of these four themes; ‘ugly girl’, ‘smoking isn’t cool’, ‘smoking kills’ or ‘smoking hooks’.
This is because public health doesn’t know how to – or doesn’t want to – acknowledge that our efforts are futile until we address the underlying roots of addiction. We can’t vaccinate exclusion. We can’t immunize against trauma.
We can only lend our unconditional support and know that the road will be bumpy.