NCO uses Great American Smoke Out to kick the habit

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Chris Stagner
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
"I love to smoke. I smoke 7,000 packs a day, ok. And I am never [frigging] quitting!" Dennis Leary said that on his 1993 album titled 'No Cure For Cancer'. For almost 15 years now, I've agreed with him.

I started smoking after I joined the Air Force. I can't exactly tell you why. It was what everyone else did, so I did it too. Before you ask, yes, I'd probably jump off a bridge if my team did it.

For 15 years now, I've enjoyed every drag, huff and puff. I've savored the moments I take away from my desk to relax with my cigarette, away from everyone and everything. Every social event I've attended for the last 15 years has been highlighted by a nice sip of whiskey and a cigarette to accompany it.

That pure pleasure and highlight of my day changed recently. When I say recently, I don't think that's really accurate. It's been 15 years in the making, but the decision that had to be made actually became apparent recently.

It wasn't seeing my grandmother with a trach and emphysema that made me want to quit. It wasn't seeing my grandfather on a respirator with emphysema that made me want to quit. It wasn't seeing my mother smoke a cigarette on the day she died of cancer that made me want to quit.

It started with me being winded after walking from the kitchen to my third-floor bedroom. I got to the top and thought, "Whooo, boy, I am short of breath." Even feeling like that, though, didn't make me want to stop.

Then there were a few times when I noticed a wheezing when I breathed. This wasn't after strenuous activity. I hadn't just run a marathon, swam or even walked slowly from my kitchen to my living room. This was just me sitting there being lazy, breathing ... with a wheeze. That still didn't make me want to quit.

Then my wife started to become more vocal about her displeasure with my joyful habit. She's never smoked. She's a beast in the gym, ran track in college and still loves to run today. My inability to run with her has always bothered her. The smell has always bothered her. The cost has always bothered her. She was never overly vocal about it until recently. That still didn't make me want to quit.

Heck, it's a drug, and I'm addicted. None of that made me want to quit. I enjoyed it too much.
I didn't make the decision to quit until two and a half feet of amazing came in the backyard.
There I was, sitting in my backyard minding my own business enjoying the beautiful weather with a cigarette.

My then 18-month-old son walked out.
It was the first time he'd seen me smoke.
He stared at me.
He looked amazed.

I could just imagine him thinking, "What's the cool thing daddy's doing? I wanna do it too!"
It was at that moment I knew it was time to stop.

It's not something that happened over night. I didn't just put the pack down at that moment and never smoke another cigarette. Some people are lucky enough to be able to do that. I am not. To be honest with you, I haven't even quit yet.

But that stops today when I join quitters across America - or the world in our case as members of U.S. Air Forces in Europe - in the Great American Smoke Out.

The Great American Smoke Out started as a motivational tool for one Massachusetts man to raise money for a college fund for his town. It spread a few years later to Minnesota as a campaign for a newspaper editor. A few years later, California successfully got 1 million of the state's smokers to give up the habit for one day. Now the event takes place all across the country on the third Thursday of November.

So what can I expect when I quit? Well, according to, I should expect:
- A high level of anger or irritability. I'm oddly comfortable with that, BUT COWORKERS BE WARNED!
- Insomnia. Hm, I'm not so comfortable with that, but I guess a few sleepless nights are worth the added nights I'll have asleep with my wife, son, soon-to-be-born child (my wife's eight weeks pregnant - Go Team Stagner!) and, eventually, my grandchildren.
- Cravings. Check. I bought some Atomic Fire Balls. I figure I'll pop one of those bad boys any time I feel like having a cigarette.
- Difficulty concentrating. I've already forgotten what I was doing today, so that's okay too.

That same Web site also tells me to expect the following when I quit:

- My physical attractiveness will improve. Well, I'm not sure how possible that is considering I'm already the Perfect 10 (I kid, I kid), but I'm willing to find out.
- My physical fitness and sports performance will improve. While I'm pretty comfortable sitting on the couch watching other people get paid copious amounts of money to be physically fit, I think it will be nice to do my part to raise the Air Force's 'Fit To Fight' bell curve.
- I'll save more money. Awesome.
- I'll enjoy good tastes and smells. I really hope that doesn't destroy my adoration of Taco Bell.
- I can protect the health of the people I care about. That's the selling point for me right there. Remember, I made the decision to quit because of my son? When you get down to the nitty gritty of it, I'm doing this because I don't want him to grow up thinking smoking's okay.
- Roughly $1,500 per year extra in my bank account. Let's be honest, folks: We live in Europe. That's a trip to Greece for me and my wife.

While I wondered how long it was going to take me to quit, I found the following information on
- My blood pressure will drop 20 minutes after my last puff.
- The levels of carbon monoxide will drop to normal eight hours after I quit. I guess it never occurred to me cigarettes had that much carbon monoxide in them. I have a carbon monoxide alarm in my house so it doesn't kill me in my sleep, but here I am smoking a pack a day. Brilliant.
- One day after I quit my chance for a heart attack drops.
- Two weeks to three months after I quit I'll have better blood circulation. I wonder if that will help my nagging ankle injury?
- Ten years after I quit (assuming this endeavor is successful and I never fall off the wagon) my chances for lung cancer drop in half.

How can I quit?
Well, I'm going to go at it with a planned onslaught of atomic fire balls and push ups. I know it's probably not the best way to do it, but this is a beast I created and a battle and war I have to win on my own. It's just the way I am. For everyone else out there, there are tons of programs to help.

The RAF Lakenheath Health and Wellness Center offers smoker's cessation classes monthly on both Lakenheath and Mildenhall. If you accomplish the live class or the online courses, the HAWC can provide you with the patch, Zyban or Chantix.

"The class is scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m.," said Staff Sgt. Rontarrius Logwood, 48th Aerospace Medicine Squadron nutrition counselor. "It's mainly a support class where they talk about ways to quit, benefits of quitting and what to expect once you quit. We also cover the dangers of smoking and how much money can be saved. It's two hours well spent to improve your lifestyle."

Sergeant Logwood said the dedication of the 48th Medical Group to help Airmen and their dependents stop smoking doesn't stop when the classroom doors shut.

"If the class isn't enough for someone to stop, people can come in for additional counseling," he said. "We'll always be here to help the people who are ready to move forward."

If you're anything like me, the prospect of sitting in a classroom to quit smoking isn't very appealing. Don't despair! You can do it online at or

P.S. That old saying that people who quit smoking gain weight ... it's true ... but it's greatly exaggerated. Our friends, the statisticians, say that in all reality only one in four people actually gains weight when they quit smoking, and it's only to the tune of five pounds.