A Navy brat walking in dad's footsteps, after attending 17 schools in 13 years, I enlisted in 1973 after graduating as a low "B" student from R.B. Stall High in Charleston Heights, South Carolina. Hooked solid on cigarettes by age 15, the Navy got a pack-a-day sailor.
I proudly served in the U.S. Navy Submarine Service from 1973 to 1982, making 7 FBM submarine cold war patrols aboard the USS Von Steuben, SSBN 632 (Gold) from 1975-78. I loved the Navy (still do). Always driven and always trying to stop smoking, I was honored with four individual citations (three submarine and one squadron), while experiencing total defeat in departing for shore-duty hooked on more than a pack-a-day.
I attended Naval Instructor Training in Norfolk, Virginia in 1978. Graduating with honors, I was assigned to FBM Poseidon and Trident missile systems submarine tender officer and enlisted training duty at DamNeck, Virginia. It was during this period that my two amazing daughters were born (each having recently blessed me with a grandson: Noah born in 2014 and Sawyer in 2015).
Aside from my teaching assignments, I helped pilot two new missile training courses, was awarded the designation of United States Navy Master Training Specialist, and was "selected" for Chief Petty Officer (E-7). Our Senior Chief, my supervisor, told me that my selection by the board, after having only taken the Chief's test once, was based upon me having scored the highest raw score. Still, my raw quitting score remained "zero".
While teaching, I earned an external undergradate degree from the University of the State of New York in 1982. Having been accepted by the University of South Carolina School of Law, I was honorably discharged from the Navy a few days prior to my August Chief's induction ceremony. I attended law school from 1982-85, earning my juris doctorate and graduated Wig & Robe (academic honors), all while my hair, skin and clothing were coated in smoke's thousands of chemicals.
After passing the S.C. bar exam, I was sworn in and admitted to practice on November 21, 1985. I engaged in the private practice of law, primarily as a civil plaintiff's and later as a child abuse/neglect attorney. I again briefly touched roots with education between 1988-89 while serving as adjunct professor at the Baptist College (now known as Charleston Southern University). Even while educating college students, juries and judges, I was unable to teach myself how to stop smoking. If memory serves, by 1990 I was up to a minimum of 2 packs per day.
By 1999, I'd smoked for nearly three decades (since 1970 - 29 years). By then, I'd engaged in roughly a dozen serious quitting attempts, quickly falling flat on my face during all but one. It was a cold turkey attempt at age 20 and it lasted about 9 months. It was then that celebration mixed with beer and a false belief that I was cured and could handle "just one."
The practice of law was often extremely stressful. By May 1999, my nicotine intake had been at 60 mg per day (three packs) for the prior five years. And my health was in rapid decline.
I had a 24-hour audible wheeze on every breath, chronic bronchitis, early emphysema, recurrent pneumonia (two Januarys in a row, yet somehow managing to smoke - just fewer), deterriorating vision, growing motivation and memory concerns (twice driving off without paying for gas), and I'd sat through a half-dozen root canals during the prior two years.
After one last failed attempt in early 1999, I promised myself that I'd never, ever put myself through quitting and withdrawal again. Then and there, I fully surrendered to the fact that I was a real drug addict in every sense (no different from the alcoholic or heroin addict), and that I would die an addict's death.
What I didn't then realize was that that was the most liberating moment of my entire life. No longer needing to quit, I soon discovered that I no longer needed the long, long list of excuses I'd invented to try and explain why I'd smoke that next cigarette. Now, there was only one. I was a drug addict.
Having fully accepted my fate, for the first time in my adult life I was able to begin each day without dread, fear and the pressure of needing to quit. And then it happened.
For some still unknown reason, on May 13, 1999, I typed "quit smoking" into an Internet search engine. Immediately, before my eyes, I was bombared by an entire world of online support and quitting info. How had I missed all this? A few clicks and I landed inside an online message board support group.
It was fascinating. I watched and read as total strangers were encouraging, supporting and caring for each other. I was soon in tears. Two days later, on May 15, 1999, with their help and ongoing encouragement, I reclaimed my life.
Two months later, on July 15, 1999, I founded WhyQuit.com. Initially, it was a quit smoking motivational site aimed at teens and entrenched smokers. I'd hoped that stories of young victims would help dispel the myth that tobacco only harms old smokers. Soon, e-mail quitting questions started arriving. I found myself digging in medical journals for answers. And on January 20, 2000 an email arrived from Joel.
Today, nearly 18 years later, primarily due to the mind-blowing insights of my mentor Joel Spitzer, WhyQuit has grown into the Net's leading nicotine cessation destination. Roughly 2.2 million annual visitors, that's 2.5 times more annual visitors that the total number of 2012 telephone calls to the nation's 1-800-QUIT-NOW quitline (880,887).
On September 8, 1999, I co-founded "Freedom," an education oriented messageboard quit smoking support forum. More than 5,000 members while still an MSN group, in 2009 we migrated the group to Yuku following MSN's closing. Today, our Facebook group has become the primary support destination of newbies. Although Freedom remains under Joel's watchful eye, with roughly a quarter of a million permanent messages, Freedom has gradually evolved into serving primarily as a reference library.
The Babe Ruth/Henry Aaron of smoking cessation, Joel Spitzer has worked full-time in the field since 1972. Amazingly, now retired from presenting live group programs, Joel devoted 5,120 days of his life to presenting six-session 13-day live clinics or single session seminars.
In April 2001, I started presenting "Freedom from Nicotine" a free six-session cessation program spanning two weeks, which closely mirrored the format and content of Joel's highly successful Chicago based clinics. I also started presenting single-session seminars and speaking on nicotine dependency and recovery whenever possible.
I presented bi-monthly free seminars at the College of Charleston from 2003 until 2006. During 2007-2008 I was hired by the state of South Carolina and presented 63 nicotine cessation seminars inside 28 state prisons.
On January 1, 2009, I released a free PDF book entitled "Freedom from Nicotine - The Journey Home." FFN-TJH is periodically revised and available in a number of formats.
Since January 2012, I've also served as director of Turkeyville. There, under the dedicated giving of Joy Kauffman (Turrkeyville's mayor) and her wise assistant, Sallie Hamilton (who's also Freedom's senior manager), Turkeyville quickly became Facebook's #1 nicotine cessation support group.
Regarding the practice of law, my final private case, Kinard v. Richardson, 407 S.C. 247, 754 S.E.2d 888 (S.C. App., 2014) concluded in 2014. Advocacy is all-out war using words. After 30 years, I no longer desired to spend my days engaged in battle. My December 2015 resignation was approved by the S.C. Supreme Court on January 13, 2016.
During the 2014-15 school year, I worked nearly full-time as a K-12 Charleston and Berkeley County substitute teacher (in the classroom 177 of 180 school days while spending the other 3 in the courtroom). I relished subbing. Many teachers would prepare me in advance via email and actually allow me to teach. Also, a number middle and high schools allowed me to devote my entire day to helping students make sense of nicotine addiction.
Since June 2015 I've worked primarily at a grocery store near home. There, I'm seeing far too many young adults hooked and buying. And that's still my dream job, to someday devote myself full-time to youth and young adult dependency prevention.
I see the nicotine battle-fronts as being three-fold and will remain as engaged in each as time allows:
(1) Attempting to awaken as many nicotine addicts as possible to the fact that they too have a permanent brain wanting disorder, and that motivation, education, understanding, new skills and support can greatly enhance their odds of arresting their dependency and staying free for the balance of life.
(2) Challenging the pharmaceutical industry, government health officials (even Obama while still in office), and increasingly the e-cigarette industry, to be honest about how most long-term ex-users succeed in quitting -- cold turkey -- and the extremely dismal odds of long-term success when toying with replacement nicotine.
As in this 2008 Canadian Medical Journal article, I'm trying to spread awareness that more than 200 placebo-controlled quitting product studies were a sham; that it's impossible to blind nicotine addicts with significant quitting histories as to presence or absence of full-blown withdrawal. As in this 2012 British Medical Journal article, I've attempted to alert health authorities to the fact that toying with replacement nicotine is costing lives.
(3) Youth dependency prevention programs that teach youth the truth about how shockingly captivating nicotine is, while countering false and deceptive industry advertising proclaiming that smokers smoke for every reason except the truth, because they must, because a rising tide of anxieties begin to hurt when they don't.
Although horribly imperfect, WhyQuit is a labor of love that's loaded with moving stories, enabling insights, and caring yet tough-love support. It's my hope you'll return and continue to explore until vastly more confident and far more savvy than nicotine's grip upon your brain, priorities, thinking, and life.
Baby steps, just one lesson at a time, yes you can!
Breathe deep, hug hard, live long,