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Tuesday, March 14 2017 00:01

Six Years Ago Today, I Quit Smoking... but the Battle Rages On...

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Five years ago, I celebrated one-year tobacco-free with a journal entry about my personal journey. Then, in 2013, I posted again, celebrating the two-year anniversary of coming clean (indeed, cigarettes are a drug), followed by another post in 2014 documenting year three, and how I couldn't get Philip Morris/Altria to leave me alone (they since have, but only after I threatened legal action). In 2015, I posted again, noting that little bits had changed, like Cracker Barrel restaurants playing into the hands of Big Tobacco (presumably) not knowing it, and the rise of the e-cig and vape crowd, followed in 2016 by an update. Today I am posting once again, as it's the six-year anniversary of kicking the habit. As I've done previously, I am re-posting much of my original entry here on THE ROCK FATHER, along with a few alterations and timely updates. Philip Morris/Altria and R.J Reynolds: As I've warned before, with each passing year, the targets on the backs of your companies and leadership continue to grow...

March 14, 2011 is the day that I officially quit smoking. At some point on the night of March 13, I quietly took the last puff of the last cigarette in the last pack that I ever owned. Upon telling my wife that I was officially ''done,'' she took it upon herself to clean-up some of the ''smoker's mess'' that I'd created. The ashtrays of both cars were scoured. The sand-filled flowerpots that I'd strategically placed on my front porch and near my gardening shed were disposed of, along with a ton of stray butts that had made their way into the surrounding landscape over the winter months. The cleansing had begun.

I'd always maintained a set of personal "rules" to contain my own habit.  Fortunately, I never smoked inside my house. My oldest daughter, Addie (1½ when I quit), never saw Daddy smoke. When I'd return from stepping outside for "a smoke" - which was usually 2 or 3 due to my chain-smoking ways - I'd go through a ritual of washing the area around my mouth with anti-bacterial soap, along with my hands and forearms. Addiction will make you do strange things to continue justifying said addiction, and this was my way of pretending that I wouldn't pass any ickiness onto my young daughter. 

I loved smoking - or so my mind always told me throughout the course of our 14-year affair. What I didn't love was paying an increasingly high cost for it. Those $2-pack days were long gone, replaced with $7-$10 packs, not to mention the increased cost of health insurance. Kicking the habit was costly as well, getting suckered into failed attempts with pills, patches, or nicotine-laced gum. None of it worked. The pills made me crazy, the patch gave me a rash, and the gum was just a waste. The high price of being discouraged felt worse than that of keeping smoking, so I kept on buying those little white friends.

My wife beat the crap out of me verbally to quit. Even before we became parents, she was on my case. I'd promised to quit before our daughter was born, yet on the day of her birth I snuck a smoke in the parking lot of a hospital that was clearly marked as a "Non-Smoking Campus." Who was this authority that was gonna tell me what to do, especially seeing how many health-care professionals (especially Doctors and Nurses) preach the "tobacco-free" mantra, yet smoke heavily themselves due to the stress of the job? Sneaking a fix: another habit of the addict.

I'm not quite sure what finally pushed me into quitting, but for whatever reason, I made a conscious decision that I would not purchase another pack. Maybe it was how much I hate contributing to corporate greed and big government? Whatever the reason, on March 14, 2011, I just quit. (I hate the term "Cold Turkey")

The past six years have been far from easy - in fact, it's been a living hell at times. The first year was the worst.

My tobacco/nicotine/cigarette addiction was so powerful, that there were times that I'd actually fantasized about eating cigarettes. I'm not kidding. 

While the supposed "physical" withdrawal was allegedly over in a week or so, you'd have a hard time convincing me of it. The "psychological" aspects were devastating. 

As I sit here in my office, typing this entry as a form of celebratory therapy, what I can tell you is that the cravings have not gone away. Yes, even after SIX YEARS FREE of tobacco, the cravings still attack, and I sometimes still experience what I can only describe as "a nicotine fit." I'd fought them largely by sucking on Halls' Vitamin C Drops for the first couple of years, but now I just deal with it for the most part - aided by Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum, which I've really grown to enjoy, and do so daily.

There were countless reasons why I should've never smoked. But once you start, it just seems so right. My Grandpa Zahn was a lifelong smoker that died because of it. My Stepfather had lung cancer, and after surgery a few years back is still going strong. My Mom smoked for many years (she's since quit). My Sister smokes. My Dad is technically a non-smoker, but I do recall his occasional pipe-smoking for a few years during the mid-1980s... and over the past few years, he's taken to the occasional cigar. The influence was around me - the consequences were around me - but every time I'd see one of those paid-for-by-the-industry "Truth" ads, I'd just want to light up again. Work made it even worse - especially when I was working in the film and television industry on a regular basis.  I smoked at least two packs (40+ cigarettes) while filming one scene (view clip) for the movie LONELY JOE. I smoked so much on the set of PRISON BREAK that Robert Knepper (T-Bag) was bumming packs off of me. There's literally hundreds of photos of me floating around that show me with a cigarette in-hand...
Smoking Sucks
Not anymore.

Philip Morris (currently hiding behind the Altria Group, Inc. name) and R.J. Reynolds are my enemies. If both companies' namesake founders were still alive today, I'd gladly punch both in the face repeatedly. Their products cost me tens of thousands of dollars, and perhaps have seeded me with future health problems. Thankfully, none have been experienced yet - but I'm only 40. There's no guarantee that I won't develop a smoking-related illness years down the line. What's worse, is that they knowingly sold me a product that was intended to keep me addicted. The process of breaking said addiction has caused great emotional harm to myself and others. My withdrawal caused me to be a complete and utter Asshole to loved ones, friends, and business associates. I vented publicly on Facebook, and at times, the cravings would become so painful that I'd nearly cause physical harm to myself or others. It's a drug addiction. Thank you Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds for that. I like eating bread on occasion, but a lack of it isn't going to make me interested in punching someone. Speaking of bread, weight gain after quitting is a real phenomenon. I gained somewhere between 80-100 pounds, and while I started to face that challenge head-on in 2014, a surgery in 2015 derailed me and I have yet to get back into the groove. 2017 has to be the year.

I'd mentioned a few years ago that even two years after quitting, Philip Morris was really pushing it. As a part of my cleansing, I made sure to remove myself from all tobacco-related mailing lists. Upon doing so, they always give you some "please allow 8-10 weeks to stop receiving these mailings" b.s. (and that's just what it is), yet somehow I'd kept receiving booklets of Marlboro coupons in the mail. Three years later? They were still coming. In December of 2013, my wife called the 800 number herself - just for the peace of mind that it had actually been done. Guess what was still showing up in the Spring of 2014? I'd kept stashing them in a desk drawer on occasion, awaiting the right moment to shove them up a Philip Morris/Altria employee's ass. Nothing like a reminder to slap you in the face. That's like putting a mixed drink in an alcoholic's mailbox. Funny thing is, after tossing out the idea of "lawyering up," the mailers mysteriously stopped. I've always figured that one day they'll probably start-up again, just out of spite - especially since I've seen goons from their corporate IP addresses periodically reading these very posts about kicking the habit.

Six years clean, and yes - I'm STILL convinced that both Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds owe me... not for the 14 years that I purchased their products (started with Camel Wides, then bounced between many of their brands), but for the crap I went through in order to quit. There have been some very rough patches in the past five years, but I've never touched another smoke - and I never will again. It would be easier for me to just run out to 7-11 and buy a pack right now, light-up and enjoy. But I won't do it.

As always, I'm posting this here on THE ROCK FATHER as a yearly milestone for myself - and because I quit for my wife and my two daughters. I will not preach to others, nor do I care if anyone else chooses to smoke - you do what's right for you. But for me? Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds have become targets for my wrath - and I wish to see them destroyed. Actually, would you like to see a list of some of the biggest pieces of human garbage on the planet? Check out the management team of Altria, parent company of Philip Morris USA, makers of Marlboro. Then have a look at the folks behind Philip Morris International, and then look at who's running R.J. Reynolds America.  When you think about "The Evils of Corporate America," these are the poster children. People like Martin J. Barrington, Debra A. Crew and their merry band of despicable human beings. Sure, they can hide behind some philanthropic causes here and there, but the fact remains that they knowingly sell a product that makes people sick. If you admit to selling a product that is harmful, they might as well just strip back all the pleasantries and say that they want their customers to be sick... and they'd love to see them dead. Sure, they'd claim that's a bit "extreme," but the reality is that there is absolutely NOTHING socially redeeming about running a big tobacco company. Not a single thing. It's all about money.

As the father of two daughters, one thing that's particularly sad to me is that Crew, ranked last year as the #47 "Most Powerful Woman in Business" by Fortune, is hardly a role model for future business leaders. After holding respectable positions in the food industry (Kraft, Nestle, Mars, PepsiCo), she jumped over to a company that makes products that kill people. She just got a bump in position to Chief Death Merchant CEO this past January. Again, all about money, and when that pushes you full-speed into the business of killing your customers, the only explanation is that the individual is pure evil. The executives of Altria and Reynolds are no better than a trailer park meth dealer or street corner crack-slinger.

If, after all the facts, someone still fails to understand where we're at and why I harbor so much hate for those who continue to push smoking as a habit, this passage from a statement released by Philip Morris two years ago (immediately following John Oliver's HBO takedown of the tobacco industry) speaks volumes:

"While we recognize the tobacco industry is an easy target for comedians, we take seriously the responsibility that comes with selling a product that is an adult choice and is harmful to health."

Personally, I'd just like to see all of them gone.

To Victory!

Rock \m/ \m/

James Zahn

James Zahn is not a journalist, nor a blogger, though he may be credited as such by others, or even accept the title... depending on the circumstance.  Instead, he considers himself largely to be an "entertainment and lifestyle writer," bringing 25+ years of experience in the entertainment and publishing industries into the family realm as THE ROCK FATHER™.

As a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur, James now finds himself raising a pair young girls - The Rock Daughters™ - along with his wife from their Illinois home.

He is a member of The Toy Insider Parent Advisory Board, a writer for the Netflix #StreamTeam, and serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. Current special projects include promotional campaigns for PJ Masks (eOne/Disney Junior) and Beat Bugs (Netflix). 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for Napalm Records' PRODUCT OF HATE.

James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, NBC, ABC, WGN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, BusinessWire, Babble, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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