Why My Mother Will Never Quit Smoking Even If It Does ‘Rot’ Your Brain

Health Check 14

My mother, the smoker
According to the findings of yet another study on the health risks of smoking, there's yet another horrible way the habit can hurt you: By literally "rotting" the brain. Hey, why stop at emphysema when you can have early onset dementia and/or rapid cognitive decline, too?

I don't mean to sound bitter or heartless. But as the daughter of a lifelong smoker (well, two lifelong smokers, until my father passed away), I honestly wonder if all these studies are a waste of time. Look, it's like this: My mother has been smoking for over 40 years. Just like every other smoker, she knows cigarettes are lethal. She knows exactly why she can only laugh so hard without going into a coughing fit. She knows exactly why she wakes up hacking and wheezing all night, every night, like some tragic consumptive in a classic novel. 

She's heard the latest news, seen the gruesome commercials, read the bold-print warning labels. But she'll never, ever quit. Why? The answer is stunningly simple. My mother will never quit smoking because she doesn't want to quit smoking. And she will never want to quit smoking. She wants to smoke more than she wants to stop coughing. She wants to smoke more than she wants to live a long, healthy live. In fact, sometimes I think she wants to smoke because she wants to die.

I know this is the part where I'm supposed to talk about how much my mother's refusal to quit smoking hurts my feelings. How she makes me feel like cigarettes are more important to her than I am and so on and so forth. But I don't. I don't feel that way at all. I stopped allowing myself to feel fear or sadness over how smoking might be damaging my mother's health so many years ago, I don't know if I even remember how anymore.

Instead, the sadness and fear I feel are on behalf of my two children, who adore their grandmother and would be absolutely devastated if anything ever happened to her. "She needs to quit smoking," my 11-year-old daughter will say quietly, anxiously, as my mother coughs and coughs and coughs. "Why doesn't she quit smoking?"

"I don't know," I tell her. That's a lie, of course. But I can't bear to tell her the truth.

I want to make something clear: I'm not judging or criticizing my mother because she smokes. I was a smoker, too, before I had kids. In fact, I quit the day I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. I won't lie; I've had the occasional weekend cigarette here or there in the years since. I don't think the craving ever really goes away. "Smoker" can become part of someone's identity. It became part of my mother's identity long ago. My mother is a smoker in the same way that my mother is an artist. That's just who she is. (The above image is one of my mother's drawings; a self-portrait from the '70s.)

I'm lucky, because smoking never defined me. It never had the chance. And I'll never be a smoker again. Because I don't want my kids to lose me, too.

Are you the child of a smoker?




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corri... corrinacs

Wow, what a beautiful picture.  Like your mom, my mom is just like this.  She's a smoker and no matter what anyone tells her, its not going to change that fact :/.  Her health is steadily declining, but still, she can't kick that habit!  

For me I quit trying to argue with her over it.....because it only creates more riff.  I think most of the damage is done on her anyway, which is sad to say.

But I wanted to poitn out how beautiful that picture is that she drew!  That's impressive.

Karla C. Mulrenan

I dont know but every study that comes up linking smoking to some deadly consequence freaks me out and makes me not smoke ever! too bad my hubby is already an addict and cant quit not even when I tell him to do it for our son : / 

nonmember avatar Tami

I was. I lost my dad five years ago to colon cancer. He was not yet 60. Colon cancer is one of those thatbmay or may not have been caused by smoking but I always wonder if that was the cause. It makes me sad that we were robbed of many years we should have had with him. He was a great man and my kid's adored him. His death rocked all of us to the core. My husband lost a parent to pancreatic cancer...quite likely caused by decades of smoking. I wish all young people picking up their first cigarette could witness what I have. They would put that cigarette right back down.

jalaz77 jalaz77

My mom did for about 15 yrs til I was old enough to not be around her when she smoked. I Stuffed towels underneath my door so the smoke wouldn't come into my bedroom, I got her cigarettes wet so they wouldn't light...she got the hint and quit. Because of her I wouldn't date smokers, turn off, hubby isn't.

stace... stacey541

I think we may have the same mother. She won't stop smoking...the biggest improvement she has made since I was a child is she went from being an indoor smoker to an outdoor smoker (thank god)

linzemae linzemae

I gre up in a smoking household. So did my husband. We both smoked till 3 years ago when we decided to quit. Now neither of us can stand to be at either of our parents houses. I am not pregnant and they arent allowed to smoke when im there. Even when we smoked, once we bought a house we decided not to smoke in it. Its so disgusting!

stara... starandseen

I'm not the child of a smoker but my husband was. His dad smoked for 30 years and tried to quit but was never successful. When he was stressed it made him smoke more. He ended up with with truth pancreatic cancer but who knows if the smoking contributed to it. Many people get cancer who has never smoked or polluted their bodies, and many have.

I'm glad all those anti-smoking commercials with the black lungs resonated with me. And that i had the good sense to know that smoking and drugs were bad for me. I don't know if I could ever give up an addiction.

Karma Grant

I grew up with smoking parents. My bio dad stopped cold turkey the day a carton cost $10, like he said he would. My mom and stepdad on the other hand, even though she'd been told to quit for many years do to heart attacks and mini strokes, never would. But things do change.

My husband and i both quit April 2011 after over 25 years each of smoking. Not because we no longer liked it, just because I was tired of how awful it smelled! That inspired my parents to try to quit at the beginning of May. My stepdad who'd been ill for 7 months (we think colon cancer due to symptoms/family history though they never tested) was diagnosed at the end of May 2011 with lung cancer, he died 8 days later. My mom used that as an excuse to start smoking again. Fast forward a year and she quit. Her little community has a great rec. center with a gym/swimming pool and she's decided she likes working out and swimming. She's using money she would have spent on cigarettes to buy work out stuff.

So there's always hope. But we all have to do it when we're ready, if we're ever ready.

Karma Grant

Oh and my stepdad was only 57 when he died. Too young.

Angie... AngieHayes

My Mother won't stop smoking, always told me to never start but can't seem to listen to her own words.. She is only 48 but I don't know how long her body will be able to keep doing it, she smokes so much....

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