B E E N  T H E R E:  S M O K I N G
Linda (Ex-Smoker)

April 1997

Linda was only 12 when she started smoking. What started as something to do to "look cool" soon became a serious addiction. Linda is almost 15 now and as an ex-smoker, she is part of Teens Against Tobacco Use, and speaks to elementary school students about her experiences with nicotine.

The InSite: When did you start smoking?

Linda: In 6th grade I saw everyone else smoking... like the 8th graders mostly. It wasn't really like direct peer pressure, it was indirect, you know. I'd see pretty, skinny, popular girls, and I'd say, "Oh, you know they smoke." But it's not like where the people go, "Oh, yeah, you're chicken!" and peer pressure someone. People don't even want to give up their cigarettes for someone else to try it. It's like when you're smoking in front of someone who is smaller than you, you may not mean to but in a way that's peer pressure. And that's pretty much why I started. And I was also really curious. So I started in 6th, but I just took drags. I didn't inhale at all, but I still thought I was cool.

...she could inhale so perfectly. And I thought "Oh, you know, that's so totally cool."

TI: Who did you get your first cigarette from?

Linda: From my friend, Kim. She always smoked, and she could inhale so perfectly. And I thought "Oh, you know, that's so totally cool." All the guys I liked did it, too. The first time I tried a cigarette I didn't even cough because I didn't inhale. I didn't start to inhale until 7th grade.

TI: So how often were you smoking, when you were just puffing?

Linda: Every day, to every other day, to once a week. It really depended on when I could get the cigarette. I would even pay my friend $5 for half a pack of cigarettes.

TI: Are either of your parents smokers?

Linda: No. So I'd have to go outside, and I'd go behind the garbage cans, and I'd hide behind there and smoke. And my mom was home, so if I heard her I'd put it out and go stick an apple in my mouth or something. I also remember spraying perfume on, but that always made the smell even worse, but I still thought I was so slick.

TI: Did your mom suspect that you were smoking?

Linda: Yeah, she did. I've always been really open with my mom. I think I told her I tried smoking in 6th grade. I don't think I told her I was really smoking. In May of 6th grade I went to a friend's and got caught smoking and my parents found out. And from then until the first month of 7th grade [September] I didn't smoke.

TI: Did you miss it?

Linda: No, because I wasn't addicted because I didn't inhale. I vowed I'd never smoke, but I started smoking again. And I learned how to really inhale. And I smoked every day. Every morning as soon as my dad would leave for work I'd go outside and have a cigarette, and my mom would be asleep so she would never know, and I would go straight to school. I would never walk to school smoking because if a teacher drove by you could get suspended for that.

My mom found out later that I was smoking. She tried to stop me but there was nothing she could physically do about it except to threaten to tell my dad. Which is like the scariest thing on earth! So I would just hide it from her. That way my dad had no idea. Then in 7th grade I really became addicted to cigarettes and that's the way it started.

I would always look at myself when I was smoking and I'd just love the way it made me look.

TI: What does it feel like to need a cigarette?

Linda: It's like a craving. Like when you're on your period and you want chocolate. It's like this intense thing that you want it. Not so much to put tobacco inside of me... it was like having that cigarette up to your mouth. I would always look at myself when I was smoking and I'd just love the way it made me look. I used to practice and try to make smoke rings when I blew out. I used to practice forever with that. No matter how many times my mom and my brother told me to quit, I would never quit. And toward the end of my smoking my mom knew, but she couldn't do anything about it.

TI: When did it seem to you that this was a problem?

Linda: The beginning of this school year [9th grade]. Then I was really addicted and was having half a pack to a pack a day [10-20 cigarettes].

I didn't smoke for three days 'cause my dad didn't go to work for those days. But he wasn't even home that one night when I stopped, because I remember I just kept smoking that night, and then I got this really bad stomach ache, and I thought that maybe it had to do with me smoking too much because I had heard about nicotine poisoning. So I decided to stop smoking.

TI: That sounds easy.

Linda: Nooo. Well, I did not smoke for three days, which wasn't that hard because I kept myself busy with other things. It's different when you just say you're going to quit and when you just don't have a cigarette for three days. I think it's harder when you say you're going to quit. Then one night when I didn't have a cigarette for three days I got really really sick. It was a really bad stomach ache. It was constipation. Diarrhea. Really nasty things. It's all caused by physical withdrawal. I'd get these stomach pains like I was going to throw up, and I kept on thinking, "This can't be because I don't have my cigarette." And then when I had my cigarette the next morning I felt better.

I would run half a lap, and it was like
running three or four miles for a non-smoker.

But then I decided I needed to quit. Because of my soccer. I had been playing soccer for seven years and cigarette smoking really affects how you run. I could not run! I would run half a lap, and it was like running three or four miles for a non-smoker. And I would just freak out. So one day after that night I vowed to not smoke any more and that was on a Thursday. Then all that Friday I didn't smoke. Saturday. Sunday. Then I go back to school Monday and everyone's smoking in front of the school. Then I started smoking half of someone's cigarette...

TI: Was there a moment before you took that cigarette when you thought "No. I told myself I wasn't going to do this!"

Linda: No. I just kept thinking about getting sick again because of the withdrawal and I thought I don't want to go through that. But just being addicted to cigarettes, you know, I just said, "Aw, you know, it was just a flu. It was nothing. You're just making too much out of it." So I took it. And that night I was sick. I didn't feel good at all. Then I didn't smoke from that Tuesday on, and ever since then I haven't had a cigarette. It was hard. It was the most hardest thing I've ever done. The worst withdrawal. I could not breathe for the first two days because my lungs were not used to the fresh air. I even went to the doctor because I was so scared. I thought maybe I had gotten emphysema or asthma or something. I couldn't breathe. I don't know why and it was so scary not to breathe like that. And I thought "Ohmigod! Just for smoking for two years did this to me!" And I was always freaking out, and I said it's not worth it to go through all that withdrawal just for some cigarettes.

It was like I was coming off some sort of a drug!

TI: What's it like for you now?

Linda: All my friends still smoke around me, and I still have cravings all the time. You know, today I was sitting in class pretending that my pen was a cigarette and trying to smoke it. But I know that I can't smoke cigarettes because the withdrawal scared me so bad. That was the thing that was really painful. It was like I was coming off some sort of a drug! I never really thought I was addicted, 'cause I wouldn't really have a lot of cravings.

Now I'm part of this group called Teens Against Tobacco Use, and we go around and talk to teens. I just say "I used to smoke, and now I'm a non-smoker because I know what smoking does." But I don't tell my personal story. I just stick to the facts.

TI: But everyone knows the facts and you knew them too before you started smoking!

Linda: Yeah! One thing that I hated was people telling me not to smoke. My brother told me for so long "Please quit!" And my cousin told me, "If you quit I'll buy you a fat gold chain." But I said, "Screw all of you! I know what I'm doing!" Whenever someone would come to our school I would get me and all of my friends to make fun of them. I'd sit there and I'd laugh and I'd make sure that my friends thought that what those people up there were doing was stupid.

TI: So why should people listen to you? What could you say that someone could have said to you that would have made any difference?

Linda: Probably a personal story.

TI: Has anything changed with you and your friends who smoke?

Linda: Not really. People still smoke in front of me. They don't care that I quit. When you smoke you don't really care what everyone else does. It's my choice to hang out with who I want to hang out with. And usually I don't hang out with people who smoke that much, but when they smoke it's like sometimes I go, "That's so disgusting!" Sometimes I just have these fits, like how can someone do that? But then other times I'm like "God! I just want some so bad!" but I know, no matter how much I want it... I can't. And I have enough will power to know that I can't.

TI: Did your friends ask you why you stopped?

Linda: No. But they all say how much they want to quit, too. But they can't. But I know that no one can quit until you want to. I learned that. I recently broke up with my boyfriend. He smokes. And no matter what I did [to get him to stop smoking]... I threatened to break up with him, he broke up with me. I told him to quit smoking, he would not listen to me. It gets you so hooked, you know? It's like a force that takes control of you. The addiction. It leaves you powerless.

The addiction. It leaves you powerless.

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