FDA Panel Says Menthol Cigarettes Harmful, Stops Short of Recommending Ban

March 21, 2011 5:53 AM by kenw

Ken Wassum, Associate Director, Clinical Development & Support:


In a long awaited announcement on Friday, the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee gave a half-hearted condemnation of menthol in cigarettes in a new report, stating “menthol cigarettes have an adverse impact on the public health in the United States…..the availability of menthol cigarettes increases experimentation and regular smoking.”  However, despite the fact that this report is the culmination of a year spent reviewing medical literature, reports from the FDA, submissions from tobacco companies, and public comments, the panel went on to say that the issue needs further study. This is too bad, because the evidence surrounding menthol cigarettes is pretty clear.

• Menthol serves to cool the smoke and make it easier to inhale and inhale more deeply. Menthol opens bronchial passages, which is why you find menthol in cold medicines, like lozenges and rubs.

• Over 50% of middle school smokers smoke menthol cigarettes. Kids report that the menthol cigarettes taste “so minty,” that they are “so easy to inhale,” and “they aren’t harsh at all.” We know for a fact that kids who start smoking earlier in life have a harder time quitting later as adults.

• 83% of African American cigarette smokers smoke menthol cigarettes, while only 24% of non-Hispanic whites smoke menthol cigarettes. African American smokers are more likely to suffer from smoking related diseases than whites, despite the fact that they smoke fewer cigarettes per day. It is unclear what role menthol plays in the health disparity.

• Menthol smokers are much more likely to smoke within the first hour after waking than non-menthol smokers. How soon a person smokes after waking is the single strongest measure of high nicotine dependence and high nicotine dependence makes it harder to quit.

• Studies show that some populations who smoke menthol cigarettes, particularly African Americans, are less successful in quitting than those who smoke non-menthol brands.

• It is a little known fact that most cigarettes have some menthol in them. It is part of the many additives they put in cigarettes to make them more palatable.

The tobacco industry maintains that banning menthol cigarettes would yield no public health benefit and that it would fuel organized crime. (Thank God they stopped short of saying than banning menthol cigarettes would serve the interests of terrorists!) The tobacco industry has a long and successful history of confusing tobacco prevention efforts by buying scientists to produce reports that show what they want the studies to show, and by predicting dire results if tobacco control efforts are enforced. There is no doubt that the tobacco industry will unleash full counter attack if the FDA tries to ban menthol cigarettes.

It is unclear if the FDA has the will to push through a menthol ban. The GOP controlled House would likely not accept such a ban where a majority of Republicans voted against granting the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco in 2009. Furthermore, President Obama may be reluctant to take on another controversial issue with everything he has on his plate right now.

Meanwhile, anti-tobacco advocacy organizations such as the American Legacy Foundation are celebrating what they consider to be an historic step to save lives from tobacco use. Now it’s up to the FDA to follow through by taking prompt and decisive action.

Your Perfect (Quit) Date

February 03, 2011 10:52 AM by ryanc

Ryan Crawford, Senior Supervisor, Service Delivery:


A romantic evening of hushed conversation over a candlelit dinner and red wine? An electric night of dancing in the city and stealing a kiss on the street? A lazy afternoon on the couch together watching a movie and laughing about how, before the kids were born, you used to go out for candlelit dinners and dancing in the city?

We have all sorts of ideas about what the perfect date might be. Whether it’s exciting and adventurous like rock climbing or as stirring and intellectual as walking hand-in-hand through an art gallery, one thing is certain: dates are important. Dates are the way we demonstrate our everyday ideas and feelings with our significant others, but in out-of-the-ordinary circumstances. They add freshness, new perspectives, comfort, and (dare I say?) spice to our relationships.

So why am I writing about dates on a website about healthy behavior change and quitting tobacco?

For starters, it’s almost Valentine’s Day, and you know it. Either you’re planning for the date you’ve got lined up, or you’re single, and like me, you’ll eat those chocolates anyway.

But more importantly, there’s another kind of date that can be very important when it comes to tobacco: your date with quitting!

Preparing for a quit is hard. Tobacco turns into an addiction far too easily, and ending an addiction is difficult. What if, instead of thinking of a quit date as an ending, we thought of it as a blossoming beginning? This can be a budding new romance with your tobacco-free self!

Here is some dating advice that can be helpful to bring to that first rendezvous with your quit:

1.) Blind Dates = Risky. Sometimes the mystery pays off, but more often than not you question why you agreed to a blind date in the first place. Set your quit and establish the day you want to “meet up.” Like with any date, make sure it’s a day and time that works for both of you (in this case, you and your quit).

2.) Woo Your Date. You don’t want to show up empty handed on the front porch! But instead of bringing flowers to the door or holding up a boombox outside your girlfriend’s window à la “Say Anything”, come prepared with tools for quitting. Use some form of medication like patches, nicotine gum, Chantix, etc. Bring straws, toothpicks, cinnamon gum, or anything else to replace your cigarettes or chew tobacco.

3.) Double-Date. Get support. This could even mean getting a quit buddy to go through the process with you! Just make sure you and your quit buddy are on the same page about how you want to quit.

4.) Leave That Ex Behind. It’s time to break up with tobacco. Heal your heart and your body by getting rid of any leftover cigarettes, ashtrays, lighters, smokeless tobacco, spittoons, or anything else that might remind you about that lowlife. (You can do better!)

5.) Put Your Best Foot Forward. When you’re on a date with someone, you show them the best you have to offer. But this quit date is about you. How can you bring the royal treatment to yourself? Reward your success with a warm bubble bath and a great novel, or with a relaxing massage. Splurge on yourself with a shopping spree or with a romantic getaway using the money you save from not buying tobacco!

6.) Make It Fun! Quitting can be rough. There’s no way around it. But quitting, like a great date, is better when you plan for fun things to do! Distract yourself by playing soccer, scrapbooking, fishing, or even dancing with your Wii!

Quitting is for lovers and single people alike. Whatever your quit date entails, make sure it is the right date for you.

Kiss and tell! Contact a Quit Coach with the Quit For Life program and dish the details about your quit date!

Teen Smokers: The Importance of Specialized Treatment for Youth

December 21, 2010 3:39 PM by moriahs

Moriah Siens, Quit Coach, Service Delivery:


I am working with three different teenagers on a regular basis. Of the three, only one has nonsmoking parents. For the other two, smoking is second nature - just as "normal" as secondhand smoke. Statistically 75% of children whose parents smoke will pick up smoking themselves. This is not a new trend. I have spoken to adults in their 60's who started smoking at eight. Since their grandparent couldn't light up the cigarette, due to the oxygen tank they were on, the kids would do it for them.

Working with youth is quite different than working with adults. First and foremost, it is illegal to sell tobacco products to minors, so teens and tweens must find alternative means to obtaining their cigarettes. Second, peer pressure is felt much more strongly during adolescence than at any other time of life. Third, youth do not have the option of purchasing Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRT).

Today kids are bumming cigs from their older legal friends, if not sneaking a couple from their parents' packs. For the average pack a day smoker, it's hard to notice only a few missing at a time. For one of my participants there is no need to hide or sneak cigarettes. Her mother buys them for her. Since most kids have to get their cigarettes from a source, it takes a lot of strength to ask that individual to stop giving or buying them cigarettes. If that individual is a parent, the task is even more difficult.

It is very typical for kids to experiment with various things when they are young. We all have stories of finding scissors and cutting our hair to unsalvageable lengths. For kids who are around cigarettes it seems very natural to pick up. Even the most careful parents can have a wayward teen try to take a puff off a cigarette their friend snuck from their parents. Between ages 11-17 the most influential person in your kids life, is his or her peers. It's not something that you can prevent. These influences are not always bad. In fact they can be helpful in teaching kids basic social skills. If your child's friends begin to smoke, it will be very difficult for your son or daughter to completely detach from that friend. Especially if they have been friends for any length of time. How teens identify themselves has everything to do with their friends.

When a teenager decides to quit smoking, whether by choice or by court order, they have some difficult decisions to make. They can either stay friends with those who still smoke and subject themselves to secondhand smoke and the temptation to start up again, or they can split off from those friends and branch out on their own. One of the teens I work with experienced the second scenario firstand. His friends were split down the middle. All were caught smoking and all were required to quit or at the least enroll in our Youth Support program. My participant and some of his friendschose to quit and branch off. The others remained smokerd and began to experiment with other substances.

While many of the state quit lines offer nicotine patches, lozenges, or gum for adults, no such benefit exists for kids. If they want to use any form of nicotine replacement therapy, they must have a prescription from their doctor. This possibly requires them to reveal they are smoking to their parents which can lead to harsh discipline and disappointment. Therefore, teens have to resort to either getting the required prescription or quit cold turkey. Quitting cold turkey as a teenager presents very unique challenges. Fortunately, some have the support of programs such as ours. One of my participants carries around cough drops so any time someone offers him a cigarette he can say his throat is sore and doesn't want to smoke. Another participant keeps smooth stones in his pocket so that he can fidget with them.

Working with youth provides new challenges and insight into the diversity of the smoking population. Even with the emphasis schools place on health risks of smoking, it seems unlikely that all kids will refrain from smoking.

The good news is that the more programs that become available like the Youth Support Program with Quit for Life, the more outlets teens can choose from.

Katherine Heigl: E-Cigarettes are a 'Fun' Addiction

December 02, 2010 9:46 AM by janicem

Janice Milliman, Quit Coach, Service Delivery:


Katherine Heigl is known for her beauty, her starring role on Grey's Anatomy, and most recently, her foray into romantic comedy leads. Unfortunately, she is also known for cigarette smoking, even while signing autographs for kids.

Heigl tried to quit the habit several times using patches, nicotine gum, and Chantix. Now she's using the electronic cigarette (e-cig) as a replacement and quitting aid. Her main motivation to quit? A newly adopted beautiful daughter. "The one thing I would say to my kid is, "It's not just that it's bad for you. Do you want to spend the rest of your life fighting a stupid addiction to a stupid thing that doesn't even really give you a good buzz?'"

On The Late Show with David Letterman she contradicts the "stupid addiction" comment and talks about how much safer the e-cigs are for her health, and of those around her. When Letterman asks if she's addicted to the device, she says, "Oh yea, I'm totally addicted... But it's not bad for you, so it's a fun addiction."

While e-cig safety is unproven and controversial, Heigl is still exposing her daughter to the smoking behavior.

In the November/December 2010 issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, Editor Michael O'Donnell addresses some of the reasons why his brother, and others like him, start smoking in the first place. "...kids who have at least one parent who smokes when the kids are 12 or younger are 360 times more likely to smoke than kids whose parents do not." 360 times! A shocking statistic.

Stress is reportedly Heigl's biggest trigger for smoking, which is very common among smokers. I hope, in addition to the e-cig, that Heigl has found other productive ways of managing stress. E-cigs, just like cigarettes, don't actually reduce stress. Cigarettes mask, distract, and delay our emotional response during times of stress. Unfortunately, if there aren't other stress management strategies, the stress is never truly addressed and so quickly returns.

Quitting is very difficult for most people, so I give Heigl kudos for all the times she tried, for not giving up, and for her success. As a mother I can identify with Heigl wanting to protect her daughter's health and be a positive role model.

Unfortunately, however, her daughter may not understand or differentiate a real cigarette from the e-cig. She will understand the pattern of mommy putting a smoking object up to her mouth when she looks upset. Kids not only learn how to manage stress through adult role models, unfortunately, they also learn how to smoke.

Who's In Control? British American Tobacco's Video Shows They'd Like to Be

November 24, 2010 9:30 AM by kenw

Ken Wassum, Associate Director, Clinical Development & Support:


Picture a tobacco company video showing organized crime hawking cigarettes on the black market and execution-style killings by the underworld to control illicit cigarette sales. You may think this is nuts, (and you might be right), but the video exists. On their website, British American Tobacco (BAT) has just released this video, called Who’s in Control?

In this six-minute video, underworld figures, including shady British, Canadian, and Russian mafia types, are portrayed using government tobacco control efforts to increase their devious activities. The video even goes so far as to play the “terrorist” card.

The FDA just released 36 different graphic images that are being considered for cigarette packs and which are intended to discourage smoking. This is in addition to the ratification of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control by over 170 countries, which callsfor plain packaging and regulation on tobacco product contents, including a ban on cigarette flavorings. BAT would have us believe that plain packaging, graphic images, tax increases, and retail placement of cigarettes play right into the hands of organized crime and terrorists.

In creating and showing the Who’s In Control video, BAT representatives are positioning themselves as the “good guys.” They want us to believe that they are looking out for society’s best interests, and that we should trust them. Right… Before discussing the merits and challenges of product regulation let’s take a look at the track record of BAT with regard to trust and ethics.

Rewind 40 some years ago - BAT was arguing that nicotine was not addictive. Their strategy was to deny and confuse the issue, and they did this very well – for several decades. Millions of Americans, including children, became addicted to the nicotine in tobacco and died from smoking. This continued until 1995, when BAT was forced in litigation to turn over internal memos in the courtroom, which proved their prior knowledge of the addiction potential of nicotine.

Okay, you might say, that was a long time ago. Maybe they have had a change of heart. Think again. According the Sydney Morning Herald, in 2002 Rolah Ann McCabe, a 51-year-old woman suffering from advanced stages of lung cancer, became the first Australian to successfully sue a tobacco company (BAT). She won a $700,000 judgment when the Supreme Court found that the tobacco company had destroyed potentially relevant documents about the damaging effects of smoking. BAT used their army of lawyers to overturn the judgment nine months later.

After filing an appeal, the family of the late McCabe received a letter from the BAT lawyers stating BAT may “ultimately look to” the sale of the McCabe family home to recover legal costs. Simon Chapman, University of Sydney professor of public health, interpreted this as “designed to send the message (to the McCabes and everyone else) that you take on big tobacco at your peril.”

Back to the issue of regulating cigarettes. The entire discussion should be framed with the acknowledgment that cigarettes remain the only product that result in disease and death when used as directed by the manufacturer. No rational person in public health wants to outlaw cigarettes. That would be a disaster similar to Prohibition and the War on Drugs.

The goal of these efforts is to make cigarettes less desirable and less marketable to kids and other first time users. That hits the tobacco industry where it hurts – the bottom-line.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids:

•over 5 million kids alive today will die from smoking related diseases
•90% of kids start smoking before the age of 18
•the tobacco industry spends over $35 million per day to advertise and promote their product

It would seem that making cigarette packaging and visibility less appealing is in the interest of society and our children. Clearly, restrictions on tobacco products needs to be carefully thought out to avoid escalating the illicit tobacco trade, but it is obvious to me that BAT’s horrifying little video is nothing but a scare tactic to confuse the issue and they are no more trustworthy than they were 40 years ago.

History of the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout

November 09, 2010 6:04 PM by reedd

Reed Dunn, Sr. Recruitment Marketing Manager:


I have never smoked, but I was a journalist.

There may not seem to be a solid connection there – if so, it’s a stereotypical one – but there are plenty of links between journalism and tobacco use. One of the first newspapers I worked at allowed reporters and others to smoke right in the middle of the newsroom.

Overflowing ashtrays sat near outdated computers, which were dangerously surrounded by piled of notebooks and past issues. Folks from the ad department often gathered in a back room, where the newspaper layout took place, and discussed placement of their ads while socially smoking right there inside the building.

Some industry professionals, including journalists, are historically depicted as tobacco users. Think about Mad Men, the popular television show about the advertising industry. The chain-smoking characters are practically defined by their tobacco use.

Historically, though, journalism also has been linked to one of the most important days to promote quitting smoking.

In 1974, Lynn Smith of the Monticello Times in Monticello, Minnesota, used his newspaper platform to promote “Don’t Smoke Day.” The day was meant to be the starting point for smokers to become non-smokers.
What came next was the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout®, now in its 35th year. Each year, on the third Thursday of November, the American Cancer Society encourages smokers to make a commitment to quit smoking. As a partner of the American Cancer Society, Free & Clear offers the Quit For Life Program.

The evidence-based Quit For Life Program, which includes phone- and web-based components, provides top-notch support from Quit Coaches who help those who want to make a successful plan to quit. While quitting “cold turkey” or without a plan has a success rate of 5 percent or less, the Quit For Life Program has yielded a success rate 43 percent or greater for those enrolled in the program.

Quitting tobacco is difficult, and you shouldn’t be expected to do it on your own. Even though I never was a tobacco user, I have been surrounded by tobacco users my entire life. Some in my family, many in the newsrooms where I worked around the country and, even today, a handful of friends who picked up their first pack in college and never have been able to successfully quit.

If you’re ready to quit smoking or using smokeless tobacco, the Quit For Life Program can help. So, why not join the countless others who will make a commitment to quit this November 18?


Congressman Asks Rangers, Giants to Keep Tobacco Out of the Dugout

October 26, 2010 1:18 PM by janicem

Janice Milliman, Quit Coach, Service Delivery:


The World Series starts tomorrow, and when the umpire yells, "play ball," many fans will dip into their popcorn, peanuts and crackerjacks. Players, however, may dip into something much more deadly -  their cans and pouches of smokeless tobacco.

On Monday, Rep. Frank Pallone, chairman of the House Health Subcommittee, sent letters to Texas Rangers President Nolan Ryan and San Francisco Giants President Larry Baer, requesting them to ban their players from using tobacco in the dugouts during the series, urging that a "ban of smokeless tobacco while players are in uniform would be a great service to this country."

Smokeless tobacco has long been associated with baseball. From the pitcher on the mound with a big wad in his lip, to the second baseman with a round object bulging from his back pocket, tobacco is part of baseball's culture. More young people these days are also trying or regularly using smokeless tobacco, on and off the mound. In 2009, approximately 15% of high school boys used smokeless tobacco. Teenage use in some states, such as Kentucky and West Virginia, is as high as 24.7%. That means for every four high school boys at least one one is a regular user.

Many people, young and old alike, see smokeless tobacco as a safe alternative to smoking. In reality, tobacco in any form is addictive and deadly. The National Cancer Institute identifies some of the 28 cancer-causing agents as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, crotonaldehyde, hydrazine, arsenic, nickel, cadmium, benzopyrene, and polonium–210. And using smokeless tobacco also brings the risk of the oral health problems--gum recession, gingivitis, and cavities.

The life-changing effects of tobacco have become painfully evident for many players. Bill Tuttle, an outfielder in the 1950s and '60s, became an outspoken anti-tobacco advocate after losing his lower jaw to oral cancer. Just recently, Tony Gwynn, a Major League Baseball 15-time hall of famer, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer of the salivary gland. While there are other potential causes of mouth and throat cancer, Gwynn suspects it was caused by many years of tobacco use.

Tobacco use is still commonplace for baseball players, though efforts to reduce availability, access, and use in the MLB have made a great impact. The Minor League lead the charge in 1993 by completely banning tobacco, with the goal of reducing the number of players who become regular users. As of 1998 tobacco companies are no longer allowed to leave complimentary tobacco tins or boxes in league clubhouses. MLB clubs themselves are also banned from providing tobacco to players.  Players caught using tobacco at the ballpark, on team buses or in team hotels can face fines of up to $1,000.

In the near future we may also see a tobacco ban in the Major Leagues. MLB Executive Vice President Rob Manfred feels a ban is an obtainable goal. He continues to work with the players' union, who is willing to discuss a ban but acknowledges players will be resistant.

Of a potential ban, A's infielder Eric Chavez said, "I would be for it. I don't do it. Sometimes when I'm watching the games you see a guy throw in a big dip and the camera focuses in on it, I know kids are watching. You want guys to be able to do what they want. Everyone is an adult, but you also have to be aware of the message that you send to kids. ... Since I don't dip, I think I'd be an advocate for trying to get it out of the game, or at least off the field."

Professional athletes, regardless of the sport, are viewed as role models. Although Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane is a tobacco user, he conscientiously avoids displaying it publicly as much as possible. For example, he makes TV reporters wait until after he removes the bulge in his lip. Ryan Ludwick of the San Diego Padres is ashamed of using tobacco: "I know it's not a healthy habit. It's not something I'm proud of doing." I give my sincere appreciation to players who, even if they use tobacco, are aware of their influence on fans.

At the time of this posting, we have yet to hear as to whether Mr. Ryan and Mr. Baer will urge their players to abstain from tobacco use while on the field this week. But the foundation has been set. If you want help quitting smokeless tobacco, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW. We may not be able to hit a home run, but we can help you quit tobacco, whether sold in a pack or a can.

The Power of Peer Influence: What We Can Learn from Across the Pond

October 19, 2010 10:13 AM by aimees

Aimee Schiefelbein, Quit Coach, Service Delivery:


Let's face it, teens are a vulnerable population. They aren't yet mature enough to see the long term impact of some of their decisions, yet they are old enough to make them. I have talked with many long-time smokers who reflect back on their very first cigarette with regret saying, "I wish I knew then what I know now about smoking." Many participants say they started as a teenager to look cool or fit in to a social group. At the time they never thought they would end up 20 to sometimes 40 years later with health or financial problems as a result of trying one cigarette. I can relate. When I was a teenager I knew smoking wasn't good for me but I didn't have the maturity to understand just how powerful this addiction was and how hard it would be to quit. I lived for the moment and decided to try smoking in order to fit in with my friends. As far as I was concerned I was invincible and health problems let alone dying was reserved for "old people."

It is difficult (although not impossible!) to get teenagers to stop smoking once they start because of some of the things I just mentioned. I believe one of the best ways to help a teenager stop smoking is to prevent them from ever starting to begin with. As a teenager the most effective thing to get me to stop would have been to find out it was uncool or unacceptable within my peer group. Sure parents or teachers could have made an impact by being supportive and warning me of the dangers of smoking, but honestly it probably would have gone in one ear and out the other. At that age the most direct route to get me to stop smoking would have had to come from my peer group. I believe this is the case for many teenagers.

I recently read an article about a new teen smoking prevention program in England and Wales. The program is based in schools and it works by identifying and training students to meet the challenge of preventing teen smoking by influencing friends and classmates. It has already proven successful for some teens. While it's too soon to tell whether this can be a long-term solution, many schools elsewhere in the UK are pleased with the success and are interested in starting the program in their school.

I remain hopeful because this approach makes sense to me. Teens decide what to wear, what music is in, and these days what electronics are cool within their peer groups and classmates. Why wouldn't they be impacted by what their peer groups thought of smoking? It will be interesting to see the significance of this program long term.  If we can prevent teens from ever starting, imagine the impact years later to the health of our future adult population.

Mom Smoked While She Was Pregnant: a Daughter's Story

September 30, 2010 6:48 AM by aimees

Aimee Schiefelbein, Quit Coach, Service Delivery:


Most people in my personal life know I work as a tobacco Quit Coach. I am often the person that gets to hear the stories of triumph and struggle of those who want to quit smoking. Sometimes friends or family come to me in exasperation because they really want to help someone else quit but have no idea how to communicate their support effectively. It was during one of these discussions with a non-smoking friend (I will call her Kay) that I learned a little bit more about her and got permission to share her story. Kay disclosed  to me that her mother was actively trying to quit and she wanted to find out from me how to best support her in this process. We had a discussion about possible ways she could bring this up with her mother...but what really struck me was what Kay disclosed to me a week later about how that conversation went.

Kay confessed that the conversation with her mother took a turn towards a disclosure that took a lot of strength and bravery on her mother's part. She confessed that she smoked for the duration of her pregnancy with Kay over 30 years ago. Back in those days smoking was more acceptable and not as much was known about smoking and the health impact to mother and baby. At that time her mother thought that because Kay came out relatively okay (with all ten fingers and toes and cute as ever) that everything was okay and she effectively "dodged a bullet." What she later learned in the process of preparing to quit and doing research on smoking was that smoking during and after pregnancy could potentially have had an even greater consequence on Kay's development. Her mother tearfully recalled the guilt she felt for not having the knowledge or tools to quit during her pregnancy or afterwards. Fortunately in the end, this conversation turned out to be a point of connection for Kay and her mother and it brought them both empathy and understanding for each other. Kay shared with me that she was able to reassure her mother that what's most important was that she was quitting now. I thought she handled this conversation very well, because quitting is a process and it often requires looking forward and not backwards and getting caught in guilt.

That got me thinking...Many pregnant smokers I speak with today know some of the health consequences of smoking during pregnancy. Smoking can be a leading cause of low birth weight, miscarriage, premature birth, and an increase in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Quitting smoking can dramatically reduce the risk of these complications. A recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, finds the children of mothers who smoked during pregnancy, particularly boys, had a higher risk of poorer coordination and physical control later in life. The results indicate smoking may impact the development of the brain of the fetus.

I thought about Kay's story as I read this study. I thought about how little we knew 30 years ago and how much more we know now. Every year more evidence is uncovered linking smoking to disease and complications for both mother and baby. What will they uncover next?

For me, the important piece to remember in Kay's story is this: it is never too late to quit. Any cigarette not smoked is less harm done. It's important for smokers to be aware of the health impact of smoking and not to let it bog them down so that they can't move forward and take the first step towards quitting. Women and their babies deserve to be healthy, which is why at Free & Clear we train Quit Coaches in how to address such sensitive issues and be an informed source of support to our pregnant callers. If you're ready to call, we're ready to help.

Bum a Cigarette, Win a Date: the Complexities of Social Smoking

September 27, 2010 7:26 AM by jasonk

Jason Kalivas, Quit Coach, Service Delivery:


It was a beautiful day in Seattle, a lingering bit of warmth riding out the end of the summer, and I decided to take advantage by sitting outside a coffee shop for a while. I had sun, I had a latte, I had a book. All in all, it was the makings of a great day off.

A girl sitting near me had the same idea, and sat with only one variation on the theme: she was smoking. It wasn't any bother to me; she was a few yards away, and the wind was blowing in the other direction. I was happy to ignore her, until a guy walked outside and asked to bum a cigarette. The girl obliged and the two struck up a conversation from there, laughed and even exchanged phone numbers at the end. Boy meets girl.

That's about when my "Quit Coach brain" took over. I had to wonder, looking at the pair, why the guy wanted that cigarette. Was it a craving for nicotine? Did he just finish a coffee and associate the tastes strongly? My guess is that he thought the girl was cute, and was looking for an excuse to start a conversation.

A guy walks up to a girl while she's reading and starts talking to her and maybe he's a bother, maybe he's a pest. Can't he see that she's busy? But if he asks for one of her cigarettes, he's asking for a favor, he's putting himself at her mercy and, just maybe, he's creating for himself the obligation to pay her back with a bit of conversation for those few minutes he's smoking. Maybe he has to show that her kindness is being put to good use and her cigarette is being enjoyed.

Maybe I was too affected by the book I was reading about the culture and traditions of Pacific Northwest Native Americans and I was being too much of an “armchair anthropologist,” reading into the why and wherefore. What is pretty clear, though, is that social smoking opens up a sort of safety valve; it gives people permission to talk to strangers, to start new conversations, to meet new people. This might explain why about 50% of smoking college students are social smokers; it's a prime time of a young person's life to meet new people in unique situations. All the same, we know that even one cigarette a month can be addictive, so you're certainly better off without. Easy to say, but less easy for the social smoker to do. To the social smoker, asking for a cigarette is the default opening conversational gambit; how else do they start talking to someone?

Being a Quit Coach isn't always about answering questions; it's also about recognizing patterns and raising questions. My job's done for today, and now it's on you: what ideas do you have for the social smokers out there? How else can they connect with new people?

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