Let me start by saying this is friendly fire. I support your courage in battling for health care reform. But I must offer my perspective as a professional interventionist, former smoker and recovering drug addict and alcoholic as to how much damage you are doing – not just to your own life and health, but to the strength of your moral authority by continuing to smoke. In demanding healthcare for all Americans, I implore you to kick the addiction that is the leading cause of preventable death in our nation.
I smoked for 20 years, and only 5 years ago snubbed out the last cigarette of my life. I'm a recovered addict, and more than 7 years ago quit alcohol, 8 years ago quit cocaine, prescription drugs and crystal meth, so I know the realities of "quitting."
Tobacco was harder than all those combined.
With tobacco, I was triggered every 15 minutes or so. The urge to pick up, light, inhale and get high arrived without fail. My friend and constant companion? An addiction: My smokes.
If we were in an intervention in the White House, with your family and friends around you, (and Secret Service of course), this is the advice I would offer and it what the experts told me before I quit.
Mr. President, you are loved, and deserve this change:
- Set a date, and commit to quitting.
- See a doctor to find out the status of your inside; consider a stop- smoking prescription as advised like a patch, a lozenge, nicotine gum or a pill.
- Get support - family, friends, co-workers, Nicotine Anonymous (NA) or the seek out free online meetings
- Act "AS IF" you are a non-smoker. Claim your seat in the row of the recovered. Clean out the motorcade, Air Force One and the White House of all the cigarettes, lighters, and ashtrays. Get rid of it all!
- Get a haircut, take a shower, clean your clothes and smell like the non-smoker you now are.
My own quitting was tough, slow going. I quit in a moment, but the urges lingered. My brain had become hard-wired for the drug delivery system that cigarettes provided. Rain or shine, I'd get my fix.
I understand where you are at - and it’s safe to concede you are under much more pressure than I expect I will ever be in my lifetime. But I made the plan, got the support and quit I did, and so can you. Slowly but surely my body started to heal, to rebound and mend.
Even today, years into my recovery from tobacco addiction an urge will strike: Pick up, light, inhale and get high. But just as the urges arrive, they depart.
Without fail the urges came to pass. They never came to stay.
Even as you ignite a national debate on the costs of healthcare, I pray that you will do your own personal math on this front. What is smoking costing you? Your health, skin, hair, sex life, and future? Quitting smoking is time in a bottle.
Smoking robs life, and time from us. In the US alone more than 47 million men and women smoke. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable and premature death right here in the greatest land on Earth, bar none. Yet it's legal and we tell ourselves we "aren’t ready to stop" and that "we like the flavor" and really it's just: Pick up, light, inhale and get high. It's an addiction.
Smoking is a drug that delivers a powerful jolt to your brain and central nervous system. Pick up, light, inhale and get high. The fix.
But it's not. You can do better, Mr. President. You must. This is a watershed moment for the way we see health care and disease. You are laying out a moral imperative and spotlighting our solemn obligation to provide health insurance for all Americans. But no plan coming out of Washington will really make any difference if we don't take care of ourselves - in the same way no car insurance will save your life if you choose to drive recklessly. Its starts with you and you are leading by example.
Alas, we are not in the White House, and I may never be invited to the Oval Office to conduct this Intervention or Family Meeting in person, so the best I can do is write this open letter and ask the rest of America to join in asking you to change. I pledge my support
You are living with a disease of addiction - so am I. We are fighting on the same side. The example you set is too important. But most of all, your very life is at stake. Please quit.