He’s a 24-year-old Baltimore native six years into a strong cigarette habit. Three times, attempts to stop smoking ended in failure. His fourth try, he vows, will be different.
“There’s no real reward for smoking cigarettes. I do it because it’s addictive. And I don’t know why I started,” said Roman Eppers, who began smoking at 18.
Roman has used some form of smoking cessation with nicotine replacement therapy in an attempt to curb his addiction with each try. But he says, it’s really not about the aid these products can give if someone isn’t mentally ready to overcome smoking.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves nicotine replacement products to help smokers wean themselves off of nicotine products.
They are available over the counter to people 18 and over or by prescription, which comes as a nasal spray or an inhaler. They appear over the counter in the form of lozenges, skin patches and gum.
Normally limited to 12 weeks, the FDA recently lifted that ban in hopes that the reported 45 million American smokers will use the extra time on the products to kick the habit.
But Eppers thinks the effectiveness of extending the time on nicotine replacement products depends on the person.
“I don’t think that would help me. I didn’t even know that there was a limit on nicotine gum. So, the FDA extending that wouldn’t really affect me,” Eppers said.
Small, controlled amounts of nicotine are present in these replacement products and the chemicals found in tobacco products are left out.
The American Cancer Society says that tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemical compounds. More than 250 of these chemicals are harmful, and at least 60 of them cause cancer.
The Habit Starts Young
Carla Williams, a physician with the Howard University Hospital Cancer Center, says cigarette smoking often begins as social activity among teens or young adults. “Even if parents discourage smoking, youth can still learn by example,” she said. “If the adults in their lives smoke, they may see it as a more acceptable behavior.”
That’s what 21-year-old Shawn Quinn said his cigarette addiction stemmed from.
“Kids repeat what they see. I saw my aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins smoke all through childhood,” he said.
He smoked Newport 100 cigarettes from the age of 14 until 19.
According to the American Lung Association, “Among adults who smoke, 68 percent began smoking regularly at age 18 or younger, and 85 percent started when they were 21 or younger.”
Eppers recalls seeing his relatives smoke a lot as he was growing up also.
Steps to Quitting
Toward the end of age 19, Eppers tried Nicorette gum for the first time to stop smoking. He chewed three times a day for about seven weeks. He stopped smoking for about eight months.
Then one day he wanted to smoke, so he did.
Then he tried “the chew,” smokeless chewing tobacco that is as a way to wean off of cigarettes. It helped about three months.
“It was pretty nasty, like those hockey players that spit all the time,” Eppers said.
And though smokeless tobacco is a form of smoking cessation, it also has double the amount of nicotine as cigarettes and increases the risk of oral cancer by 50 percent.
Then Eppers tried Nicorette again.
“But then I decided I didn’t want to stop smoking just yet,” Eppers said. So he started again. And now his fourth attempt began April 8, with Nicorette once more as his choice of replacement therapy.
Williams of the Howard Cancer Center says ending a cigarette habit is tough because the addiction is both physical and mental.
“Nicotine causes certain brain chemicals to be abnormally high,” she says. “When those levels drop closer to a normal level, the tobacco user will go into a state of withdrawal. This means the body is trying to get the brain chemicals back to the higher level because that is what the person is used to. As soon as the person inhales tobacco, the levels start to rise and the cravings subside. The process keeps the cycle going indefinitely.
“The psychological part of addiction develops as a person builds routines around smoking such as while driving, after meals, on breaks from work, etc. Eventually the habits become ingrained and hard to break,” Williams says.
Quinn tried twice to quit smoking using the gum. He failed both times.
“Part of the reason I also think the gum didn’t work is because it’s really expensive. It was like $40 for 20 pieces and I was really irritable when I wasn’t smoking,” he said.
He now uses small cigars, which he hopes will help him to gradually quit smoking cigarettes, but those products also contain high amounts of nicotine..
Risks with Smoking
Various cancers, specifically lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema and other complications can develop as a result of smoking cigarettes, according to the FDA. Smoking kills 1,200 people every day in the United States. Also, smokers have a one in two chance of dying of a smoking-related disease.
Both Eppers and Quinn are aware, to some extent, of the health risks associated with smoking.
“I have no desire to stop because I’m hooked. I’ve been doing it for so long now that I really and truly enjoy smoking. It relaxes me,” Quinn said.