An Open Letter to Mothers Who Smoke


ashtrayMy mother has smoked for my entire life. She's more or less smoked for her entire life, actually. My earliest memories of her involve the mingled scents of peppermint and tobacco, because the two constants in her pocketbook were always unfiltered Camel cigarettes and Doublemint gum. I remember her favorite ashtray in the same way one might remember her mother's wedding ring: Silver on the outside, bright yellow on the inside (under the charcoal gray coating of ash, that is).

My mother still smokes, and the truth is, I feel like it's kind of my fault. Because in the past 35 years, I've never really asked her to stop. I've never told her how it turns my stomach to hear the endless coughs, those coughs that sound like they could rip her frail body apart. I've never admitted how much I hate the stale smell of smoke that clings to her room, her clothes, her car.

I've never told her how I always felt like cigarettes were more important to her than me.

I'm telling you this because if you're a mother who smokes, there's a good chance your daughter feels the same way, even if she's never spoken the words aloud.

I want to make something clear: I'm not judging my mom, and I'm not judging you. I don't think of smoking as a character flaw, nor do I think of smokers as threats to society. I smoked on and off for years myself (mostly because my parents did, but still, it was my choice). I don't think of smoking as the worst of all possible vices. If my mother were morbidly obese or destroying her liver with booze, I'd be writing the same letter about overeating or alcoholism. Smoking doesn't make my mother or anyone else a bad person.

What it will make her, and is already beginning to make her, is a sick person. That's my concern, and always has been.

My mother is an amazing grandmother. My two kids adore her. So it's heartbreaking for me to imagine how devastated they'll be when she's too sick to make it to their high school graduations or take pictures at their proms. If she even lives that long.

It makes me sad, but it makes me angry, too. I've always tried to spare my mother from the reality of what her smoking has done to me, because ... because she seems so incredibly hurt whenever anybody brings it up, I guess. But now that I have kids of my own, my mother seems to have no problem pointing out my every inadequacy as a parent. For example, she tells me I'm selfish for having a boyfriend (I'm divorced).

It's unfair and it hurts, but I still can't bring myself to look her in the eye and say what I really want to say: Selfish? Where do you get off calling ME selfish?

But the anger fades quickly, replaced immediately by the familiar worry and sadness.

Then there are the practical concerns. I'm an only child. My mother has no health insurance. How am I going to take care of her? I have no idea.

But what it all boils down to is this: I don't want my mother to die, and I've been terrified of her dying for as long as I can remember. I lost my father last year, and I doubt I'll ever get over it. I will miss my mother so much when she's gone.

Your daughter will miss you so much when you're gone.

Are you a mom who smokes? Did you have a mother who smoked?


Image via Peter Lovstrom/Flickr

bad habits, smoking


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nonmember avatar faith

I completely understand. My mother didn't quit smoking until she had a heart attack. I feel fortunate she survived her heart attack. My husband's parents quit smoking because they were tired of my son nagging them all the time. If you are a smoker, he will follow you around telling you how bad it is for your body.

Rhond... RhondaVeggie

I know what you mean about smoking being more important than the kids. I've always felt that way about my mother. When I was a teen she booked seats in the smoking section of a transatlantic flight because she would rather have her asthmatic daughter sit in a den of smoke for over six hours than have to leave her seat for a cancer stick. My whole childhood I wheezed and walked around smelling like an ashtray. I'm quite sure she doesn't have that long left, she coughs constantly and she isnt even sixty yet but she could pass for seventy.

nonmember avatar anon

I honestly think you're over reacting a bit. "I always felt like cigarettes were more important to her than me." Did she have to take a smoke break in between changing your diaper as a child, or push you away from a hug so she could have a drag? As you stated, people have their vices, and their opinions. Some are worse than others, some are bad for themselves or for others. I understand that you are scared of losing your mother, I lost my own father, who was a smoker, to lung cancer. Would I have liked to have in my life and my childrens lives still? OF COURSE. That said, my grandmother, who was a smoker since she was 9, lived (even with a cough) until she was almost 100. Yes, smoking increases your chances for developing cancer and other health issues, but so does a lot of other things. I truly get you not liking the smell, etc, but this is your mothers life not yours. While she may or may not be shortening it, it is still her choice to make. In a way you DO come across, at least to me, as a little bit selfish. Yes, my mother smoked, as did my father, and his parents before him. No, I do not smoke, but the thought never crossed my mind that my mother liked her Vantage 100's more than me...I think you have a little more deeper issues with your mom than her smoking.

nonmember avatar anon

I would like to add to my earlier comment, that I do believe that people who smoke should do so away from children and others who do not.

jalaz77 jalaz77

I am not a smoker. I HATE smoke. My mother did for maybe 15+ years. She quit cold turkey because we started staying away from her when she smoked. She said we were very clear about how much we hated smoke. I used to get her ciggs wet so they wouldn't light, I used to put towels up against my door when it was shut so the smoke would stay out of my room. She started smoking downstairs only, then outside only until our Alaskan malamute would take her ponytail and shake her head like a rag doll, no lie there, so she finally quit. This was all before I was 12 and before anyone knew the real dangers of smoking. I am so glad she quit and so is she but we (us kids) never felt second to her smoking.

Lucre... LucretiaMcEvil

If someone wants to pay $2,000/year to the government for lung cancer, who am I to judge?

I say, "Rot on!".

momav... momavanessa

My father smoked so I understand and agree with this 100% My husband's father still smokes and his health is getting worse and worse. He has COPD and everyone around him wants him to quit. It is all up to him though.  My husband calls him everyday and asks him to quit and I know it is starting to get to him.

Argentina Iraheta

My dad is a smoker since age 12 or 13. He's an alcoholic too. I had/have asthma. I remember him smoking directly next to me at a family party once when I had an attack. What did he do? He moved across the room while my mom's friend ran to get her kid's rescue inhaler for me because I didn't have one. Place drinking and quite possibly a mental illness that I inherited and, well, my dad was not exactly there for me. We were broke all the time, so one day I did the math for how much his addictions cost each year (well over $3K when our annual income before tax was less than $25K), he yelled at me and told me it was his money (though when I got a job at 17, he had the gall to ask me for money for smokes). I think it's right when I say he cared about his booze and Marlboro reds more than me or our family. We hardly talk now since my family (except myself) moved halfway across the country about 5-6 years ago. I've seen him maybe 4 times since then.

Argentina Iraheta

To top that, he always gets a clean bill of health at the doctor but my mom (who was born with a heart defect and had open-heart surgery at 15) has extremely high blood pressure and now high cholesterol. My mom doesn't drink, smoke, or overeat, yet she's the one suffering now because she can barely afford her medications and doctor visits while dear old dad keeps smoking and drinking away her money.

fraoch fraoch

I smoked up until I found out my daughter has asthma and quit that day. Never picked one up since.

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