Article by Kevin Griffin | Photography by John Merkel | Owl Staff

I couldn’t stop crying. It was my first experience with losing a loved one. My grandfather passed away from a multitude of complications but the primary factor was lung cancer. He was only 57.

Even before he passed, Mom would talk about how much she hated smoking. The loss had influenced me to despise smoking myself.

Everything changed when I began working. I got a job at a sandwich shop when I was 15. The work would be slow at times and coworkers would step out the back door for smoke breaks. If a customer walked in the store, whoever had the least of their cigarette left would have to run inside to serve them.

I started by bumming cigarettes, but coworkers quickly lost interest in supporting my habit. At 16, I was buying cigarettes. I couldn’t purchase them myself, but my coworkers were more than willing as long as they could keep a few. I started slowly by smoking two or three a shift, maybe one on the ride home. Something that began as an excuse to take a break had turned into a habit.

After graduating high school, I was hired as a tower technician to work on cell and radio towers. I’ll never forget my first day. I remember the harrowing 90-foot climb straight up the side of the tower. At the top, I had to lean over the edge of the platform and repel down. The landscape leaned forward in an overwhelming, panoramic mass; the horizon stood before me as the wind rushed beneath my feet.

“At 16, I was buying cigarettes. I couldn’t purchase them myself, but my coworkers were more than willing as long as they could keep a few.”

I was exhausted and terrified. The tower was swaying slightly in the wind. The experienced climber next to me had a Newport in his mouth, and the brief relief was tempting; the stress was becoming too much to bear. I had to ask him for one before we finally descended.

As the job went on, I realized that working outside allowed for a smoke break at any time and that the demanding labor encouraged taking these breaks. I was consuming a pack a day or more and spending almost $3,000 a year on cigarettes.

It wasn’t until I was able to recognize the factors that encouraged my habit that I was able to actively take the steps towards breaking it. For example, I would smoke whenever I was in the car and as soon as I arrived where I was going. Smoking after a meal became commonplace and after a few drinks was mandatory. This all had to change.

The frustration of quitting made me realize part of my goal for success. I’m less angry, and I can actually breathe better and taste foods again. The best part is that I can hug my mom without being told I smell.

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult. It took me more than a year to walk away from smoking. In the end, it was the accomplishment itself that has kept me from going back.

Quitting smoking was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and that pride became my motivation.

I tried dozens of products and methods but the most effective thing was my own willpower. I found reasons to quit that changed my life and I’ve never felt better.

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