This Blog May Inspire You, But Motivation Is Another Story

By Jane Henley, MSPH

When I was a teenager, about 2 out of 3 kids my age had tried smoking cigarettes and about 1 of 5 kids smoked cigarettes every day. Many of my family members smoked. Most of my friends smoked. I tried smoking. The reason I don’t smoke today was a boy I’ll call Mike. One day I was with my friends and I was trying to catch Mike’s attention, so I lit up a cigarette. Mike did notice me but he was notimpressed! He yelled, “Gross! Who wants to kiss a girl who tastes like an ashtray?” I stomped out that cigarette and never lit another. I didn’t know then that I would become a cancer epidemiologist and that much of my research would focus on health consequences of tobacco use.

I now know that smoking causes cancer in many parts of the body including the mouth, nose, throat, voice box (larynx), lung, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, colon, rectum, kidney, bladder, cervix, blood, and bone marrow (acute myeloid leukemia). I know only too well that smoking increases the risk of dying from cancer and other diseases in people with cancer even after it is treated, including breast and prostate cancer patients. My mother was a 20-year breast cancer survivor but died from lung cancer. As a cancer epidemiologist, I know the dangers of smoking and although I tell my friends and family over and again about how bad smoking is for them, this is not what motivates them to quit.

  • My mother quit smoking when she was in the hospital waiting for surgery to remove a brain tumor that had metastasized from her lung cancer.

  • My friend quit smoking in her twenties because she wanted to broaden her pool of available bachelors to include men who preferred to date non-smokers. She called a quitline and slapped on a nicotine patch.

  • My brother quit smoking in his thirties because his wife asked him to. He tried to quit several times and was finally able to quit with the help of nicotine gum.

  • My friend’s father quit smoking in his sixties because he had a chest X-ray and his doctor found nodules on his lungs. He didn’t want the nodules to turn into cancer so he quit smoking on the spot.

Quitting may not be easy, but it is possible. About 2 out of 3 adults who smoke want to quit. More than half of them have quit for at least one day in the past year. Today in the United States, about 3 out of 5 people who smoked have quit for good.

Some people think that because most people quit smoking “cold turkey” that this means it is the best way to quit. But research shows that people who use tobacco cessation counseling or medication increase their chance of quitting for good — and that using both counseling and medication increases that chance even more. However, only 1 out of 3 smokers use these proven cessation treatments when trying to quit smoking. The fact is, if more smokers used proven cessation treatments, more smokers would quit for good. This is why I encourage my friends and family who smoke to get help to quit smoking. I encourage them to talk to their doctors, get counseling, call quitlines (1-800-QUIT-NOW), get information online ( or on their phones (text the word QUIT to 47848), and use FDA-approved cessation medications like bupropion SR (Zyban), varenicline tartrate (Chantix) or nicotine replacement products (patch, gum, lozenge, inhaler, or nasal spray).

While I can educate my friends and family about the harms of smoking and the benefits of cessation and inspire them to quit smoking, I know they will each find their own reason to quit smoking. Maybe they want to spend their money on something besides cigarettes. Maybe they do not want to smell like smoke anymore. Maybe they want to be healthy enough to play with their grandchildren and be around to see them grow up. Mike was my reason. What’s yours?

This article was originally published on December 18, 2018, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is republished with permission.