Ninety percent of smokers started before the age of 19, and almost a quarter of them started by the age of 10. The younger children are when they first try smoking, the more likely they are to become regular tobacco users and the harder it will be to quit. Shannon was one of those kids. She tried her first cigarette because it was “cool.” At 19, when she could legally buy a pack, she began to smoke regularly.
Over the next 20 years, Shannon smoked about 3-4 cigarettes per day, and easily smoked six times that amount when she went to bars. For her, drinking and smoking went hand in hand. She shared up to two packs per night with friends, and quickly noticed the financial drain from smoking. As a young adult, Shannon knew smoking could also cause serious health effects. She says, “You don’t see it when you’re in your twenties, but when it’s hard to breathe just walking up a flight of stairs, you know it’s bad.”
Shannon witnessed her aunt, a smoker, struggle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD. This condition makes it progressively harder to breathe due to irreversible lung damage, and is the third leading cause of death in the United States. COPD also increases the risk of other problems like heart disease and lung cancer. There is no cure for it.
Shannon knew she had to quit for her health and her kids, and over the years she tried to quit several times. Motivated to keep up on family hikes and play with her grandchildren, Shannon persisted. Her granddaughter would say, “Grandma, you stink!” and it kept her on track. Every time Shannon resisted a cigarette, she knew she was one step closer to better health and more time with family.
One year ago, Shannon became a non-smoker for good. When she quit, she kept her hands busy and mind at ease with beading. She also drank more water to help manage cravings. Ultimately, the encouragement and support from her children and grandchildren, along with a focus on her future health, helped Shannon succeed.
As a non-smoker, Shannon doesn’t get sick as often anymore and she loves to get outside with her kids. She says, “The kids wanted to hike at Sandy Beach, and I couldn’t do it. Now I can. Now I’m bugging them to go with me.” For giving up cigarettes, she gained so much more, and inspired her kids and grandchildren to never start. She is proud that her daughter does not smoke. She tells Shannon,” Mom, I have good lungs. I want to keep my good lungs.”
Shannon hopes to inspire other young people to stand up to peer pressure, consider their long-term health, and reject commercial tobacco. Looking back, she says, “smoking really does affect you – your lungs, teeth, skin, overall health. Just because you don’t feel it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t harm you. Just don’t do it. You’re not missing a thing.”