Max S., 45

Like many people, I began smoking at an early age because I thought it made me look cool and maybe a little tougher. I lived in a neighborhood where you needed all the help you could get and all the tough guys smoked. If you could handle a non-filtered cigarette, you really had bragging rights. That was back when all you needed was seventy-five cents at the vending machine to get a pack of smokes. None of us gave any thought to the health effects of smoking.  By the time I was 30, I had a pack-and-a-half habit.

Most men pause at certain points in their life (30 years old, 40 and 50 years old) to reflect and evaluate and plan for the future. My plan at 30 was to get back in shape, so I decided to start by running laps around the block. My two young sons were out in the yard watching me huff and puff and counting the laps as I passed by. As I rounded the block on one of the laps I could hear them yelling and I was so pleased that they were cheering me on. It was not until I got closer to them that I understood what they were actually saying to me. “Slow down, slow down!  You’re going to blow your heart out!” my youngest son claimed. The running didn’t last long because over a pack a day just doesn’t support a great deal of stamina. A conversation with my doctor led to questions about family history and the fact that my dad had died at 52 years old from a heart attack. He told me my father’s early death should be all the motivation I needed to stop smoking, and wrote me a prescription for nicotine patches but they didn’t work for me.

When I developed chronic sinus problems and bronchitis, it seemed as though I was always sick.  I eventually decided that I was tired of being sick. Call it what you like, weakness or a lack of discipline. It really doesn’t matter what label we attach to it. The truth was that I had not found a way to stop smoking. I had used some smokeless tobacco products before and decided to switch to smokeless tobacco to try and give up smoking. I’m almost 46 now and I haven’t smoked a cigarette in more than 15 years. My overall health is better. My family is no longer exposed to the effects of second-hand smoke. As a smoking cessation option, smokeless tobacco worked for me when nothing else did. I continue to use smokeless tobacco and, though I wouldn’t recommend it to a non-tobacco user, I know that the platform for smokeless tobacco products as a harm reduction option is valid based upon my own experience. I’ve heard the argument that “one is as bad as the other,” but the scientific research doesn’t support that claim. I think our society has been conditioned to think that all tobacco products carry the same health risks.  Based upon my experience, we can’t always take an “all or nothing” approach to helping people stop smoking. My approach with smokeless products was to lower my health risks by making the switch from cigarettes to smokeless tobacco. It made no sense to me to adopt an “all or nothing” approach because I had not been successful with that approach in the past. Perhaps I haven’t completely eliminated my tobacco use health risks, but I have substantially reduced them and I think some success is always better than none at all.