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Pamela Worth, who lives in Massachusetts and works in communications, will be smoke-free for 10 years in February 2014. She decided to quit for her health. Since Pamela quit, running has become one of her favorite hobbies. She even ran a marathon, something that didn't feel possible when she smoked, because she would get too short of breath. Pamela believes that if she can quit smoking, so can you.
Q: When and why did you decide to start smoking cigarettes?
A: I was 17. My friends smoked. It seemed kind of cool, and I felt like it became part of a rebellious identity for me. I was kind of a nerd, so it was a way to rebel without doing anything truly scary.
Q: How many years did you smoke cigarettes?
A: I smoked for five years. By the end, I was smoking a half pack to a whole pack a day. At that point, I kind of always wanted to smoke. Sometimes I had to smoke first thing in the morning, and there's nothing grosser than having a cigarette at 6 a.m.
Q. How did smoking affect your health and day-to-day life?
A: I noticed it was difficult for me to go up stairs and to catch my breath. Every morning I would wake up and cough up gross stuff. I would catch colds more easily. My clothes and my hair stank, which grossed out all of my nonsmoking friends. I couldn't smell it then, but I began to once I started quitting. I was mortified!
When I smoked, it was still legal to smoke in some bars, but not all of them. If it wasn't allowed, I would have to leave my friends at the table and go outside. As more and more of my friends quit, I was left outside by myself. And it can get cold here in Massachusetts!
It was also expensive. I bought more packs than I intended to because I would run out faster than I thought I would — and that got very expensive.
Q. What made you decide to quit smoking?
A: I always felt guilty about it, and I got tired of the health effects. I always knew I needed to quit, but I had to try between 5 and 10 times before I was successful.
When I was in high school, I was a peer anti-smoking educator. I talked to younger kids and health classes, informing them about the health risks of smoking. I knew what I was doing to myself. Everyone knows it's bad, but I had an especially informed perspective on it.
Q: What were some challenges you faced when quitting?
A: For me, the longer I smoked, the more it felt like part of my identity, and that was difficult to let go.
There were also certain triggers that made me want to smoke when I was trying to quit. One of my triggers was driving, so when I was driving, I would want a cigarette. My big trigger was stress. I felt like I couldn't cope if I didn't have a cigarette. Now I realize that wasn't true.
Another challenge I faced when trying to quit was dating a guy who smoked. Smoking was a couple's activity. When you have people close to you who smoke, it makes it difficult to give it up. I would think, “This person I respect and spend a lot of time with has this nasty habit. He's not giving it up, so why should I?”
Q: How did you successfully quit?
A: I used a website to help me quit. The site is a social community of ex-smokers and people trying to quit. I set up a profile, which tracks how many months of my life I've saved, how much money I've saved, and how many cigarettes I haven't smoked. It helped me because it held me accountable.
When I felt stressed and had a craving, I would post on the site. People from all over the world would chime in to tell me not to do it and share tips. They'd say, “Don't do it!” or “Go take a walk. That helped me.” I wanted to be part of this community of strong people. It made me want to stick with it.
I also used a nicotine replacement product that was super helpful.
I was surprised by how much my life stayed the same without smoking. I was scared it wouldn't be. I was afraid I would lose my identity. Smoking is an identifier. It's so visual. When you smoke, everyone knows you smoke. And you meet people through smoking just because you smoke. I realized I didn't have to hide behind a cigarette to make new friends.
Q: How has your life improved since quitting?
A: I still have my profile, and it tells me that I've saved nine months of my life, I haven't smoked 35,000 cigarettes, and I've saved almost $10,000. I've probably saved even more than that, because I'm sure the prices of cigarettes have gone up. When I first started using the site, I had to enter my quit date, how often I smoked, and how much a pack of cigarettes cost in my area.
Over time, I started eating better and felt more confident in exercising. Now I'm a runner and do yoga.
Also, life is just easier. You think quitting smoking will make your life harder, but it actually makes it easier. You have more energy, you have more time, and you're not scrambling to feed this addiction that makes you feel bad. Not to mention, you smell better and you don't have to leave the party every hour.
Q: What advice would you give other women who are trying to quit smoking?
A: Lean on a community, your nonsmoking friends, and your friends who have quit. Reward yourself. Those first few weeks are so difficult, so indulge yourself on any nonsmoking craving that's not totally damaging to your health. I would give in to food. Also, don't go out drinking that first week.
Quitting is hard to do, but it's totally worth it. I don't think I can explain how good I feel about myself — even 10 years later — because I don't smoke anymore.
It's so empowering to quit smoking. I even ran a marathon. I felt like I could do anything. One of my friends quit soon after me. She thought if I could do it, she could too. Now we run 5Ks together.
To find more information and resources about smoking and how to quit, visit the Smoking and How to Quit section of womenshealth.gov.
Content last updated November 01, 2013.