The downside of lighting up

Dec. 31, 1969, 7 p.m. | By Jennie Breads | 51 years ago

Blazers cope with the negative effects of smoking and attempt to kick cigarette addictions

Two before first period. Another on the walk home. A few more throughout the evening, and by the time she goes to bed, junior Kimberly Montgomery will finish a half pack of cigarettes.

"I am an addict," she admits with a shrug. "It's as simple as that. I need to smoke."

Although Montgomery acknowledges the harm that each puff imposes on her young body, she is reluctant to stop her lethal habit. "I know that smoking is bad for me, but I'm at the point where it's too late to stop," she explains.

Despite a recent study from the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, which reveals that national levels of teen smoking rates have decreased from 37 to 30 percent within the past five years, an informal Silver Chips poll conducted on Nov 20 shows that smoking is still prevalent at Blair. According to the poll, 34 percent of Blazers have smoked cigarettes, and 80 percent know other teens who smoke.

For teens like Montgomery, there are many resources, such as cessation classes and nicotine patches or gum, that are available to help fight addiction.

First spark of addiction

Junior Michael Tsegaye, who no longer smokes, remembers his first encounter with a cigarette when he was eight. He recalls watching his father walk to the car and casually toss a cigarette onto the ground. After he picked up his father's cigarette, Tsegaye accidentally put his mouth on the burning end. "I didn't know what I was doing," he says with a chuckle. "I was just trying to imitate my dad."

According to the American Cancer Society's website, it is especially dangerous for young children to smoke because the earlier an individual begins to smoke, the more difficult it is to quit.

Montgomery also smoked her first cigarette around age eight. Like Tsegaye, she learned about the habit from a relative.
"I always looked up to my older brother, who smokes. One day he told me that I couldn't hang out with him unless I smoked a cigarette with him," she says. "He was probably just joking around, but I was actually curious, so I tried one."

Although Montgomery did not begin to smoke regularly until she reached high school, she cites her early introduction to cigarettes as a factor that influenced her subsequent decisions. "There have always been smokers around me. My parents used to smoke, and all but one of my siblings smoke," she says. "Out of all my friends, I can only think of one person who doesn't use cigarettes."

Suffering with symptoms

Throughout the two years in which he smoked, the worst side effect for Tsegaye was his loss of concentration. Tsegaye explains that his body would "get fidgety" without nicotine in his system, and he had difficulty focusing on homework and extracurricular activities.

Montgomery has also noticed that since she began smoking cigarettes, her body has formed a strong dependency on nicotine, which can affect her interactions with friends and family members. "People won't like me if I haven't had a cigarette in a while. I can get pretty moody or edgy without one," she explains.

Montgomery has experienced other symptoms that the American Cancer Society says are typical of frequent smokers. She says that friends tell her that the pitch of her voice has dropped since she began smoking and that she is often winded after walking upstairs to class.

Her habit also takes a heavy toll on her wallet. In an average week, Montgomery says, she spends nearly $15 on cigarettes alone.

Besides the monetary and physical problems associated with smoking, Montgomery's habit has gotten her in significant trouble with administrators. She has been suspended three times for smoking on campus. "I tried to quit smoking after I kept getting caught," she explains as she reflects on the suspensions. "But it was so hard."

Kick the habit in the butt

A University of Massachusetts study conducted this year might reveal why Montgomery experienced so much difficulty quitting. The study shows that teens may become addicted to cigarettes in only a few weeks by smoking just one cigarette every other day.

Although Montgomery's parents urged her to use the patch to help curb her intense cravings, she says that by the last week of wearing the patch, she needed more nicotine in her system. "Eventually I just ripped off the patch and smoked a cigarette," she says. "If I had more self-motivation to quit, I probably would have been more successful."

The self-motivation factor is a major reason why Tsegaye was able to conquer his addiction. "I wanted to quit for myself, and even though I know that cigarettes are available all around me, I have the willpower to resist smoking," he says.

Tsegaye was able to kick his habit without outside assistance, but according to David Ngbea, the monitor of student security, many people need help from others in order to overcome addiction. For this reason, Ngbea leads a smoking cessation program at Blair every Friday where he meets one-on-one with student smokers.

During the meeting, which usually lasts one to two hours, Ngbea reviews videos and health awareness packets with students. Most of the students have been referred to him by administrators for smoking on school property, he explains.

Ngbea says the program has been effective for many individuals. He attributes the success rate to some of the shocking facts that he forces students to review. "I give people surprising information about smoking that they might not be aware of," he says. "For example, did you know that the same chemicals in rat poison are also in cigarettes?"

While the information from the cessation program did not motivate Montgomery to change her habits, Ngbea is still confident in his material. "As far as I'm concerned, this is a valuable program if I can help even just one student overcome an addiction that has the potential to kill."

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Jennie Breads. Senior Jennifer Breads is the Managing Health Editor for this year. Aside from writing lots of health stories, Jennifer enjoys playing soccer and lacrosse and she is excited to be part of the Silver Chips team! More »

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