My parents were smokers, and I said I would never smoke. Then came high school and teenage rebellion, so I tried smoking, but I was always athletic and it never really took root.
After high school, I joined the military, which had a strong smoking culture at that time. It was a social thing -- taking a break with a friend and having a smoke. I continued smoking until my late 20s. When I quit, I got athletic again and ran four marathons.
Being around tobacco smoke is bad for you, even if it's someone else's smoke.
When someone smokes a cigarette, most of the smoke doesn't go into their lungs. It goes into the air, where anyone nearby can breathe it.
Smoking is banned in many public places. But many people are still exposed to secondhand smoke, especially children who live with parents who smoke. Even people who try to be careful about where they light up may not protect those around them.
Then, in my mid-30s, life got rough. In a period of 6 months, my mom died, I went through a divorce, and I suffered a bad back injury. I self-medicated with alcohol and fell into the habit of smoking again. I smoked in the morning after coffee, after meals, and when I felt stress, like after getting a bill in the mail. Before I knew it, my half pack a day turned into a pack a day.
For my 40th birthday, I convinced some friends to do something challenging: Get in shape and climb California's Mount Whitney, which is 14,494 feet. I was going to the gym but I still smoked. When we climbed Mount Whitney, I developed high-altitude pulmonary edema, a potentially fatal condition where my lungs filled with fluid and I was gasping for air. I don't know if it was smoking-related, but I have a hard time believing it wasn't.
After that trip, I continued smoking, though I tried to quit. My mom had died from cancer, and my dad had emphysema. I didn't want to be like them. For me, an athlete caught in the body of a drinker and smoker, I realized I wasn't in alignment with my values -- a commitment to health and fitness.
I started changing my habits. After work, I stopped going to the gas station where I bought beer and cheap cigarettes. Instead, I went directly to a yoga class before heading home. I stopped drinking because beer and cigarettes went together for me. Instead of having a cigarette as a reward, I'd do something physical instead, like 20 push-ups. I collected my smoking money and put it in a coffee can. At the end of the month, I'd reward myself with a gift like new running shoes.