March-April 2012 | A Better You | Say Goodbye to Smoking

Here’s why—and how—to quit

By Suzanne Martin, PT, DPT

What’s that smell? It’s unmistakable and controversial—the smell of cigarettes. So much has changed nationally and internationally in the last 10 years in terms of restrictions on smoking in public. Wrapping up the photo shoot for my book in London in 2006, we were barely able to breathe in the pub where we went to celebrate. However, this past year the air inside the same pub was clear—even if you had to brave a gantlet of wafting smoke plumes to gain entry.

What’s the big deal? My last column about smoking (“Kicking the Habit,” March/April 2010) was geared toward adolescent dancers. Chances are that those of you who still smoke started as adolescents. One young dancer told me he started because he saw the principal dancers smoking. Female dancers often take up the habit in an attempt to control their weight. Others use a cigarette as a break-time goodie to relax their nerves. Yet others rely on its appetite-suppressant effect to get through long rehearsal and performance days without hunger pangs.

Then slowly but surely, other effects creep in. One teacher told me that she had to stop smoking when she realized she couldn’t make it through her sixth class at the end of the day because she was so out of breath. Another had to stop when she developed chest pain from smoking those long, chic, unfiltered cigarettes back in the ’60s. Another recalled being in a New York dance class and hearing this incredibly labored breathing. She looked around and was shocked to see that its source was the teacher.

True, times have changed. But what if you don’t feel, or perceive, the effects on yourself or others? The impact of tobacco on breathing, for example, can take years to make itself felt.

Then, of course, there’s denial. Teachers who have stopped performing and are no longer worried about their weight may feel fatigue and general dissatisfaction and think: I’m just out of shape. Also, because of tobacco’s combined physical and psychological addiction, a teacher may resist quitting until smoking stops her from doing something she wants to do.

Why stop smoking if you like it? Here’s why: the number-one killer in the United States is heart trouble, and smoking causes coronary heart disease. Cigarette smoking causes reduced circulation by narrowing the arteries. Also, nicotine can increase the level of “bad” cholesterol in the bloodstream, setting you up for heart artery blockage.

Then there’s cancer, a close second to heart disease as a cause of death in this country. Here, smoking strikes again: lung cancer is the top U.S. cause of cancer deaths, claiming nearly 157,000 lives last year, the National Cancer Institute says. Smoking causes an estimated 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths in men and 80 percent of such deaths in women, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. It also is blamed for nine out of 10 deaths from chronic obstructive lung disease. A graphic image from my years in physical therapy school has remained with me: a deceased smoker in the cadaver lab, with lungs as black as black could be.

You may be on the fence. Or maybe you’d like to stop, but withdrawal looks just too difficult. And besides, isn’t it true that people gain weight after they stop? These are valid concerns for a dance teacher, but please don’t stop there. Addictions have to be tamed.

The addictive payoff of nicotine may be unnoticeable to you if you’re a longtime smoker. Nicotine addiction is particularly insidious because it has strong mood-altering effects as both a relaxant and a stimulant. Withdrawal is not life-threatening as it is with drugs like alcohol. But nicotine also stimulates the reward center in the brain, giving a sense of near-euphoria. How do you give that up?

Try adding up what you have spent in your lifetime on cigarettes, and keep that number posted on your fridge for motivation. Add to that the amount spent on breath fresheners and dry-cleaning so that you don’t smell like an ashtray.

One practical motivation to quit is the sheer expense of the habit. Teaching dance generally isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme; think how much fatter your wallet would be if you weren’t coughing up the price of a daily pack of cigarettes (ranging from nearly $11 in New York City to about $4.70 in West Virginia). Try adding up what you have spent in your lifetime on cigarettes, and keep that number posted on your fridge for motivation. Add to that the amount spent on breath fresheners and dry-cleaning so that you don’t smell like an ashtray, and yes, you have a big number.

Mark Twain said it’s easy to quit smoking; he had done it hundreds of times. The dirty fact is, you’re going to have to work at it. Making a decision to quit may be momentous. Managing a decision like this takes true grit. Set your mind, but first create your strategy.

A number of weaning aids do indeed help. Nicotine gum, nicotine skin patches, nicotine lozenges, and nicotine nasal spray all work by helping you to stave off cravings while lessening your nicotine dosage, and they are all approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. However, the FDA remains concerned about the e-cigarette, which allows smokers to inhale nicotine in a vapor. Regulators have raised concerns about the product’s marketing and quality control.

Thanks to the Internet, access to smoking cessation coaches is easy and affordable. As a longtime smoker, you may not realize the effects that nicotine has had on you, so do get some support and help. While you may see some weight gain, it will be temporary as your body resets its metabolism to life without nicotine.

This is a lifestyle change, a big one. You might be surprised to learn how many friends and relatives have long wished you would quit but were too polite to say so. Talk about it, and get others to encourage you and rally you on to your goals. Keep a log or a journal of your feelings and the days of ups and downs. In general it takes about 21 days to form a new habit. Give yourself a good amount of time to make the change permanent. One teacher told me she considered herself a non-smoking smoker for 10 years; she carried a pack of cigarettes in her purse for the first year, just in case.

’Fess up. We all have a habit to kick. Make this one your project. Think of all the people who depend on you; your family, your students, your colleagues, and most important, yourself. You’ve been around the block in the dance field. Now go around one more time feeling great.

I have faith in you.