Muna Idriss is a Financial Coaching Fellow at CGF and a Senior at Brown University studying Africana and Slavic Studies
My Name Is Muna Idriss, And I’m A Smoker
So, I have an interesting quirk. While I’m relatively inattentive to most aspects of my surroundings, there’s one thing I always notice: smoking. I can smell stale smoke on the clothes of smokers, I eye cigarettes in the hands of students as they walk to classes, I see advertisement collages wallpapered on the windows of convenience stores, and I always find a pack or two around on weekend nights when people are having a good time. I notice these things because I am a smoker.
I am also a Financial Coaching Fellow here at Capital Good Fund (CGF), providing one-on-one Financial and Health Coaching to low-income Rhode Islanders. One of the things I’ve observed is that while what we cover may seem elementary to some, it is revelatory to many, and the strategies we use to work with our clients are so effective that I have yet to meet a fellow Coach who hasn’t personally put at least a few of them into practice.
Again, I am a smoker. I will always consider myself a smoker, no matter whether I happen to be actively smoking or not, because I don’t consider smoking a habit. The act of smoking is habitual, but the mentality of being a smoker is eternal. The attachment to smoking is not simply an addiction to nicotine. Despite not having felt a positive neural response to nicotine for quite some time, I still smoked, for many reasons. I’m writing, from a smoker’s perspective, about why quitting is so difficult and why the conversation being had about it today is so insufficient.
The Smoking Epidemic
According to the CDC, each day 4,000 youth under the age of eighteen smoke their first cigarette, with 1,000 in that age group becoming new daily smokers. This comes to 400,000 new underage smokers a year. My two best friends and I contributed to that statistic; we all started smoking before we were fifteen. Friend A started when she was twelve or thirteen; her parents were smokers and there were always cigarettes in the house. Friend B started around fourteen; her close friends were all older and smoked heavily. I started at fourteen as well, and I believe my reason was a combination of wanting to fit in and seeking relief from my untreated depression. We also lived in the South: the state of Georgia, to be specific. Beyond being where most of the tobacco in the US is grown, Southern states also have the lowest state taxes on cigarettes: less than 50 cents per pack in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana. Compare that to Rhode Island ($3.50) and New York ($4.35), and it is hardly surprising that 10 out of the 10 states most addicted to smoking, according to an article on Health.com, are in the South. No hyperbole: cigarettes were so cheap in the South that in high school I spent more money in a week on snacks from the cafeteria vending machines than cigarettes.
No matter the price, everyone knows that buying cigarettes not only empties your wallet, but also shortens your life. In 1952, Reader’s Digest published “Cancer by the Carton”, which directly linked the increase in smoking to the increase in cases of lung cancer in the US. Before this article, studies had been done on the topic, but the relationship between the two was considered correlational, not causal. In 1964, “Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service” was published: a lengthy compilation of research that explicitly stated the causal relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, claimed that a smoker is 9-10 times more likely to get lung cancer than the average non-smoker, and listed many of the known carcinogens in cigarettes (cadmium, arsenic, formaldehyde, etc.). A year later, the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act was passed, which required surgeon general’s warnings on the labels of all packs sold in the United States. The secret has been out ever since.