Quit Smoking Group: Judgements Imposed Upon Smokers

Carrie here! In my last post, I wrote about attending a quit smoking group at the Tobacco Education Center at UCSF. I've attended two classes in the past two weeks and have lots of information to share. I will continue with a series of posts relaying my experience and what I've learned. This post is dedicated to the group experience and what smokers have in common: the judgment they endure from others, as well as themselves.

The attendees of the class consist of four smokers (including myself), two pharmacy students who have never smoked, and Suzanne, our smoking cessation counselor. The first class began with introductions, and Suzanne started. Suzanne is a former smoker who tried to quit a dozen times. She even quit for 5 years and then relapsed. She's no stranger to the seduction of cigarettes, and she can sympathize with those of us who are finding it very difficult to quit. Suzanne views smoking as an illness, just like diabetes. "Tobacco dependence is a powerful disease."

The four of us who smoke ranged in the number of cigarettes we smoke per day. I'm on the low end, smoking 7 to 10 a day, and the high is a pack "or so" a day. We each spoke of our experience with smoking: how long we've been smoking, the number of times we've tried to quit, and our reasons for quitting. What was surprising to me was that the other three had attended group smoking cessation classes more than once -- in a couple of cases, multiple times. It became very clear to me how difficult it is to quit this habit. You may say, "Well, duh -- nicotine's addictive, you moron." You may even say, "Carrie, you barely made it for 24 hours smoke free -- this shouldn't be a surprise." But, you see, I've realized that the only serious attempt I've made to quit smoking is now (and I'm probably not taking it seriously enough -- Suzanne pointed out that I have some denial issues). These people have tried to quit with dedication, made it through 3 to 4 months, and somehow found themselves back to puffin' on the butt.

I'll be honest, my initial thought was "How could someone make it through 3 months of no smoking and then blow it by picking up a cigarette?" I had more thoughts that contributed to my denial problem -- "Well, they're pretty heavy smokers -- I'm not. This won't be as hard for me." After attending the second class and recognizing that I had denial issues, I understood that these types of thoughts contribute to the shame a lot of smokers feel -- feelings of weakness, failure, and guilt. The same shame I feel when friends of mine say, "Just quit. Don't buy cigarettes, and you'll be done with it" and "You're still smoking? I thought you quit a couple of weeks ago." I can't imagine how many times each of them has heard this-- not to mention how they must have felt when they succumbed another time to tobacco. In California, the amount of disdain a smoker experiences is amazing. The health nuts out here show no passion for those suffering from nicotine addiction. A scowl appears on their faces as they walk by smokers outside of a bar. The guy on the other corner smoking a joint receives a clever grin and a wink.

"Do not judge lest you be judged yourselves. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure it shall be measured to you." (Matt 7:1&2 from the Bible -- not exactly sure which version)

A smoker's frustration compounded with declining self esteem, caused by the judgment of others, started to resonate within me after the first class. Recognizing that my denial and how I too was guilty of judgment settled in after the second class. I'm no different than the other group members -- I also suffer from this disease. I need to take tobacco dependence seriously and shed my denial. The shedding will be an enlightening experience, and I just may even find other areas of my life where I'm in denial. I hope that by the third class I'll have recognized most of them...

Other posts by Carrie:

  • 24 Hours Smoke Free
  • "Cold Turkey" is for the Birds
  • Read the Fine Print
  • As the Smoke Clears
  • The Enchantments of Smoking
  • Good Bye to Mr. Cigarette

  • Photo courtesy of activefree
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    About the Author

    MA, MAppSci, PhD

    Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.