April 27, 2022

Cigarettes still Have a Hold on Me—10 Years after Quitting.

Quitting smoking is a choice we have to make every single minute when we first start that journey.

Then, for a long while, we make that choice every hour. Every three hours, like formula-feeding a newborn. Every 24 hours. After a week, we might still be reminding ourselves as soon as a craving hits: you are a non-smoker! 

Six years after I quit smoking, when I read that Canada—one of the first countries to do so—moved to ban menthol cigarettes, my brain immediately said, No! And again, this week, when I read that the United States is poised to do the same, I felt sad about it. No, sad is the wrong word. Fear. I felt like I was about to lose something major.

I have not touched a cigarette in a decade, and the thought of not being able to smoke them—pure anxiety.

“Menthol’s persistence infuriates health advocates because the ingredient’s cooling effect has been shown to make it easier to start smoking and harder to quit. The health consequences have disproportionately fallen on Black smokers, 85% of whom use menthols.

FDA officials estimate that a ban could prevent 630,000 smoking deaths over 40 years, more than a third among Black people.”

I didn’t always smoke menthol cigarettes. The first time I tried a menthol cigarette, it honestly made me feel kind of nauseated. I wasn’t a heavy smoker at that point.

But in my mid-20s, a new friend convinced me to try her brand of menthol cigarettes, and this time, I liked them. It became my cigarette of choice.

Studies show that menthol cigarettes are more addictive than regular ones.

Research from Nadine Kabbani of George Mason University, Virginia, found that menthol may directly promote nicotine craving because it binds to a specific nicotine receptor in the nerve cells called the a7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. In effect, menthol can alter the receptor’s response to nicotine.

Additionally, it was found that menthol can initialize a long-term effect by triggering areas of the brain that process pleasure, reward and addiction.”

I’m not surprised with how difficult I found it to stop smoking. And it’s probably why so many of us fail even when we’ve stopped for weeks or months. So clearly, banning menthols (and other flavored tobacco) is the right move.

For those who are still struggling with this addiction, I see you, and I feel for you, and I hope you find the strength to stop smoking. Because smoking is still so widely accepted in our society, the struggle to quit and the mental and physical aftereffects of quitting are largely ignored—long-term, they’re beneficial; short-term, they put us through the wringer first.

For those of you about to lose your menthol cigarettes, sadly, tobacco still has such a hold on me—after 10 years!—that despite every anti-smoking sentence I write here, I am with you in how that feels, too.

One resource I will always recommend, over and over again, is Allen Carr’s book, The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. I wish you luck and healing.

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