By Steven Littles, Men’s Health Month Special
I am an actor, director, producer and resident of Los Angeles. With June being Men’s Health Month, I thought it would be the perfect time to share my story and continue the discussion to better health for Black men. I quit using tobacco because once you pick up a cigarette or vape, it’s hard to put it down. And with tobacco being a major contributor of heart disease, cancer and stroke within my community, I knew it was time for a change.
I started smoking cigarettes when I was fifteen-years-old because it was the cool thing to do. Living in New York City, you could smoke just about anywhere except the subway, and being Black, cigarettes were pushed in our communities at a higher rate. I would walk into a bodega and there would be cigarette advertisements all over, and each shelf behind the register was stocked with cigarettes.
I would probably smoke a pack or two a day. I never realized the extent of my addiction. With some people, the cigarette is the footnote to their action, but with me, my action was the footnote to a cigarette. I needed cigarettes to function. My morning routine would consist of waking up, lighting another cigarette, making a cup of coffee, lighting another cigarette, getting dressed and smoking three to four cigarettes on the walk to the subway. It even got to the point where I would deprive myself nutritionally. I would buy a dollar’s worth of salami, and fifty cents worth of cheese just so I had enough to buy a pack of cigarettes.
I reeked of burning tar, paper, and other chemicals. My hair, my clothes, my apartment; everything smelled like smoke. My teeth weren’t white, and I could barely taste my food.
The road to quitting was not easy. I tried and failed many times. I always felt as if I needed to announce my plans to quit in front of people to hold myself accountable. And each time I made such a statement, I got closer to quitting. Cigarettes also became more expensive, which is another reason why I wanted to give up the habit.
One of the things I have learned as a former smoker is nearly 70 percent of smokers would like to live smoke free. They have mixed emotions about quitting, and often want to wait for the perfect time. But there is no perfect time. According to one study, the average smoker attempts quitting 30 times before they succeed.1
My reasons for quitting were personal, too. I no longer wanted to hide it from my mother and grandmother, who were both ex-smokers. My friend’s mother was a smoker and she died from
kidney problems due to smoking. And my soulmate was taken from me, leaving me and our two children prematurely.
After I stopped smoking, I would eat whenever I craved a cigarette, and as a result gained weight. However, my teeth got whiter, my skin cleared up, I stopped smelling like smoke, my mood improved, and I no longer had anything to hide from my mother and grandmother.
For anyone thinking about quitting, the best thing is to just do it. It’s all mental. Smoking is an addiction, and your body just craves it. You will make any excuse to smoke. However, once you throw out the cigarettes or vapes, it will be tough, and withdrawal is common.
And to those people thinking about starting smoking, I would strongly advise against it.
I’m glad I was able to kick my addiction. If I was still smoking during the pandemic, I would have been at higher risk for catching COVID-19 and more at danger for serious health problems. Research indicates that smokers experience worse symptoms after getting COVID-192 and those who smoke were two times more likely to get admitted to an intensive care unit, need mechanical ventilation, or die compared to those who did not smoke.3
For those who need assistance, there is a free resource to help Californians quit smoking or vaping. A supportive voice, tips to deal with triggers or creating a plan of action can be found at nobutts.org.
I wish these types of resources were around when I needed them.