The Shame And Guilt Of Being A Mom Who Smokes Cigarettes
Full confession: I started smoking occasionally when I was a sophomore in college. I really started smoking when I was a junior in college, and I moved in with a guy who smoked a lot. We kept cartons of Marlboros in the freezer. By the time I was in graduate school, I smoked like a 1950s housewife — up to a pack and a half a day. That’s a hell of a lot of cigarettes.
Back then, a lot of my friends smoked too. We’d stand in front of the academic buildings and bum off each other while we talked about F. Scott Fitzgerald. But worst of all, I smoked when I wrote. Not necessarily during (though there’s a great picture of me writing my master’s thesis surrounded by a cloud of smoke), but in between. I’d get stuck, stop, and have a cigarette. A lot. Writing meant a smoky haze hanging in the air.
I finally quit smoking when my first son was born (I was severely depressed during pregnancy and while I desperately wanted to quit, my mental energy went toward maintaining my mental health). I was supposed to have a midwife birth, but I was transported to a hospital, and in my ensuing terror about my birth plan going completely awry, I … forgot about smoking.
I stayed clean for almost a decade.
But then, I started writing more. I started hanging out in my friend’s garage sometimes, and he’s an inveterate smoker. Slowly, slowly, the smoking crept back. One a day. Two a day. I’m currently smoking about five to six cigarettes a day. I like the ritual of it: I like to go sit in my chair outside; I like to talk on the phone to my bestie (who also smokes) or message my friend in South Africa (also a smoker). I smoke when I finish a draft. I smoke when I’m freaking out. I … smoke. I’m a smoker.
I hate smoking.
My fingers smell like nicotine. My hair smells like smoke. My sense of smell is going away again, like it did before. Some days I find myself smoking outside in cold, cold weather. I can cut down — a few days I’ve had no more than one or two cigarettes. But it’s hard. I like to have something in my hand and something in my mouth, and the tendency of people with ADHD to crave stimulants isn’t helping.
I want to quit smoking so much.
It’s not good for me. Yeah, we all know smoking kills. My pack of cigarettes tells me that. It also tells me it can cause lung cancer. Reuters says that a full 90% of all lung cancer is caused by smoking. 10-15% of smokers die from smoking, and many more succumb to smoking-related conditions: heart disease, emphysema, stroke. My grandmother had both lung cancer and died of smoke-related causes. So smoking is the equivalent of a low-grade death wish, or a total lack of foresight.
It’s not like anyone doesn’t know this. Everyone knows that smoking kills.
Worst of all, smoking hurts the people around me. The CDC says that “there is no safe level of secondhand smoke.” That smoke I exhale contains more than 7,000 chemicals — and hundreds are toxic. Seventy are flat-out known to cause cancer. I have three sons. They’re more likely to have asthma attacks, ear infections, and respiratory infections now. My husband’s more likely to die of a coronary event, stroke, or lung cancer. It increases those risks by an a whopping 20-30%, too.
Smoking is killing my family.
And even if I shoo my kids away from my smoking, they’re exposed to what’s called thirdhand smoke. That’s smoke that clings to your clothes, your hair, etc. after you finish smoking. The Cancer Center says it gets in your carpets. Your furniture. Your car. And even though I smoke solely outside, it gets in my hammock chair — which my kids love to sit in. One researcher says it could continue for decades. Another study found nicotine still lingered in people’s houses when they smoke outdoors. Still another says it hangs around in your vehicle, even if you ban smoking there, too. Mice exposed to thirdhand smoke have a higher risk of developing lung cancer.
I want to quit. But the rituals of smoking are as addictive as smoking itself, like the click of the lighter. The things you do when you smoke, like talk on the phone, become associated with it: talking on the phone with my friend means both of us hiding outdoors and sucking down cigarettes — which now cost an arm and a leg, thanks to anti-smoking campaigns. My favorite brand is seven fucking dollars a pack. I don’t smoke them, but the cheaper equivalent, which still runs me four bucks a pack. At five cigarettes a day, that’s at least a dollar a day dedicated to inhaling airborne cancer.
I have a plan. I smoke because I want something in my hand and my mouth, I want to continue the ritual associated with it. I want to turn to an e-cigarette that exhales only water vapor, like this one. It eliminates secondhand smoke. But the University of San Francisco claims they don’t always contain pure water vapor; they still exhale chemicals and can cause indoor air pollution.
Well, better than sucking down real cigarettes. I’ve tried, over the years, just about every single quitting mechanism there is. I’ve tried gum. I’ve tried the patch. I’m currently, for psychiatric reasons, on a drug that they actually prescribe to help smokers quit. I want to quit smoking. I want to quit for my health. I want to quit for my family’s health. I don’t want to smell like smoke anymore. I don’t want the ashen taste in my mouth afterwards.
But goddammit, is it hard. I’ve settled on transitioning to an e-cigarette, then hopefully cutting that out altogether. But I’ve picked up the habit of smoking in between writing … and I write a lot. Hopefully the e-cigarette, especially since I smoke, comparatively, not a huge amount, will do it.
I’m tired of hurting myself and hurting my kids. But nicotine is wickedly addictive.
I finished an essay. I’m going to go smoke now.
Goddammit. At least the kids aren’t awake.
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