The Closet Smoker

OBob Gold
OBob Gold

July 13th, 2002, 1:28 pm #11

You know, I was talking to my mother yesterday. Her friend's son has been diagnosed with lung cancer, and it's spread.... all over. He's 33...... 33.

She says to me, "and he didn't even smoke." "Really!" I replied. "Well, only one or two here or there. Just occassionally."

Of course, she's getting this from his mother. And, I'm thinking to myself, "yeah, and you didn't think I smoked at all." Of course, I have no way of knowing how much the poor guy really smoked. But, I also know how many people hide their addiction from their parents (especially mothers!). I did. Several of my friends have. I have to wonder, if his mother knew he was smoking some, did he really have the control he seemed to have from her perception? Or, was he, like so many other closet smokers, quietly, uncontrollably and secretly poisoning himself on a regular basis?

You can hide it from your parents, your boss, your co-workers, friends.... you can't hide it from everything.
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madisonsmom(DBLGREEN)
madisonsmom(DBLGREEN)

March 20th, 2003, 12:41 am #12

I have been a closet smoker for the past two years after my relapse (I quit for 3 yrs). In the last two years, I have smoked only in my garage at home and in my car (with my air freshener always in reach).
I have been in a perputual state of withdrawal which maybe why this quit has been okay - I am used to this feeling on a daily basis! I have lived in fear that my parents and friends would find out (of course, it is very possible that they knew- a non-smokers nose is very perceptive!). I am tired of living a lie and tired of being a slave to nicotine!

By the way, for some inspiration for all - my parents both smoked (heavily)from their late teens until 40 years old. They both quit cold turkey over 30 years ago. Today, they are 73 years young - my dad golfs every day and my mom still water skis on one ski! They hike together on a regular basis and live each day to the fullest.


MMom
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BubblyDoodlebug Gold
BubblyDoodlebug Gold

May 28th, 2003, 12:52 pm #13

I was a closet smoker. I learned lots of tricks. One was to drive to a park and I would put on a hooded sweat shirt put the hood up and get out of my van and smoke. I didn't care it was dark and dangerous. I probably looked dangerous myself standing there in the dark with my hood up smoking. Kind of like the Bruce Willis in "Unbreakable" When I was finished I would take my sweatshirt off and my clothes and hair would not smell like smoke. I would do this all year around no matter how cold or hot if it was raining or snowing. I didn't want people to know I went back to smoking. I figured I'd quit again before they figured it out.
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SurrenderGold
SurrenderGold

November 23rd, 2003, 2:24 am #14

This was one of two articles that started me on the journey to become a non-smoker. Looking back, I can't believe how much I suffered being a closet smoker. I think I was in withdrawal for about 10 years. Sheila (Gold today)
One year, 5 hours, 24 minutes and 19 seconds. 5113 cigarettes not smoked, saving $894.80. Life saved: 2 weeks, 3 days, 18 hours, 5 minutes.
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KDJ23
KDJ23

March 22nd, 2004, 5:46 pm #15

I was a closet smoker. I went to tremendous lengths to hide it from my family. Nrt was my way of avoiding smelling like smoke and keeping myself from severe withdraw around them. How rediculous I was... I would go months without seeing my parents because I didn't want to go through the process of taking a shower and putting on clean clothes after the first 6or 7 ciggs of the day. In public places I was always paranoid about running into them with a cigg in my mouth. I would hope that thier friends wouldn't recognize me if they saw me standing outside somewhere smoking. And so, even on the front porch (the only porch) of my apartment I would throw my cigg down whenever a white car that looked like my parent's went by. I would have still smelled terrible anyway but I figgured I could come up with some excuse.

My point is that I lead a life with paranoia that I would let my family down. I felt weak and stupid knowing what each puff was doing to me not only to my body but to my mind as well. I shut myself off from my family. I chose smoking over them.... Now I choose life over the chains and weight of addiciton.

I never enjoyed smoking but it ruled my life. Alienated me from the people I loved and destryed my self-esteem.
This is one of the many countless ways my addiciton was taking my life little by little each day.

I will never EVER take another puff ever again.

KJ
I have stopped nicotine for 8 days, 2 hours, 44 minutes and 47 seconds (8 days).

I've not smoked 162 death sticks, and saved $28.41.
I've saved 13 hours and 31 minutes of my life.
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thunderw0lf1
thunderw0lf1

July 12th, 2004, 3:27 am #16

I wish I had thought of laying it on thick and making my fiance feel guilty about smoking instead of just letting her know that I knew she was still smoking. Instead, she's back to her regular smoking routine and all I can really do is hope she once again gets the courage to quit smoking.




Dave - Free and Healing for One Month, Nine Days, 12 Hours and 58 Minutes, while extending my life expectancy 6 Days and 20 Hours, by avoiding the use of 1977 nicotine delivery devices that would have cost me $235.65.
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wannadanc
wannadanc

July 21st, 2004, 12:23 am #17

Wow - this thread caused me to revisit my life - the pieces and chunks that required me to give up friends and family for periods of time so that I could keep the addiction going.

As a public school teacher of health and biology, I was on constant alert lest the truth be discovered! How in the world could I honestly educate young people when I was harboring such a grevious defect in my own character???

My first husband was adamant about my NOT smoking - so therein was a challenge that kept me on edge for 14 years of a terrible marriage. No matter that HE was a clinical psychologist and a total control freak - I took MY power in my use of nicotine - whenever I was w/ friends who supported my habit and kept my secret. Of course, that I smelled like an ashtray could be "blamed" on the association w/ smokers/.

A divorce - and 5 years of single life - removed all the stops, other than my job. A remarriage was to a smoker - you have to know that I KNEW I never wanted to be around a nonsmoker again. Although we are divorced now, we are still friends and I am watching him die from lung cancer.

Through all of this - through 30 years of teaching - I hid my smoking from certain groups of folks. Oh, lordy, when I left town for long road trips - the freedom to smoke anywhere, anytime was heady stuff - until society began to put some restrictions on me.

SO - this thread has me looking back - but only for a moment - because 48 days ago - I began to look ahead - and I have been nic free for all that time - and now we can really talk about FREEDOM.

Thanks for being there! YQF - Vicki
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Newday88
Newday88

November 15th, 2004, 10:18 pm #18

Boy can I ever relate to your story!! I am a new member - smoked for about 40 years and have now quit for 6 days. I was a closet smoker for the last 4 years or so. My story is so similar to yours - even though I love my family/friends so much I thought of excuses all the time to be alone - so I could smoke. I always encouraged my husband to go out-of-town, found ways to be by myself. It was horrible and got worse as the years went by. I even picked up butts off the street when I didn't want to buy any for fear of someone in the store recognizing me. Here's to a better and brighter future!
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freemom
freemom

November 15th, 2004, 11:08 pm #19

This link really hit a nerve for me. I was a closet smoker for the last 4 years of my addiction. I started smoking when I was about 16 and continued until I got pregnant with my first child at 32 years old. I Quit through 2 pregnancies (smoked for the 6 months in between) and started again just a couple of days after my second was born. From then on, the deception began. I had 2 groups of friends which represented my duel personalities. One group were from my past, my smoking buddies. Looking back now, they actually encouraged my sneaking around to have a fix. They even supplied them and hid me out when neccessary so I could smoke. Then I had a second group of healthier friends. People I have met since my marriage and children. I would have been so embarrassed and ashamed if they saw me smoking. I would go for hours in withdrawal when ever we spent time together. After about 4 or 5 hours I would start thinking up reasons why I had to get away to get a fix. It was terrible. I was always in withdrawal or in a state of anxiety. I can't believe I lived this way for so long. I used to sneak away from my kids. As soon as they were old enough to be able to tell on me, I never let them see me do it again. Which meant leaving a 3 and 4 year old alone long enough to go outside to sneak a smoke. Thank God nothing ever happened while I was outside. I used to worry about that too while I was hurrying to finish a smoke. I honestly did not enjoy my smoking at all those 4 years. It was soley done to feed my need for nicotine. I know now (finally) that I am an addict and I can NTAP. No more lying to myself or those I love. Thanks for making me think and letting me get this off my chest. This site has made all the difference in my attitude towards my addiction. And that's what will keep me from going back. I truly know that ONE=ALL.

Cheryl - Free and Healing for One Month, Ten Days, 11 Hours and 5 Minutes, while extending my life expectancy 2 Days and 2 Hours, by avoiding the use of 607 nicotine delivery devices that would have cost me $136.79.
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Newday88
Newday88

November 16th, 2004, 3:51 am #20

I just want to thank you for taking the time to write. It is SO GOOD to FINALLY talk to and listen to other people who were closet smokers. I really thought that I was alone in that "catagory". I have driven through snowstorms in the past, risked my life (I still can't believe the things I did) for a cigarette. And, it never really tasted that good! I went about 4 years too with my family thinking that I had quit. They were forever praising me and using me as an example to other relatives that couldn't or didn't want to quit. The guilt was tremendous. I am looking forward to a new life and feel like I have been reborn in the past 6 days. Thanks again.
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Newday88
Newday88

November 17th, 2004, 7:39 am #21

I just read your story about being a closet smoker and could really relate to it! My problem was that I live in a small town so I couldn't smoke in public. Luckily we have some bush behind our house and I would spend much of my time taking my dogs for walks so I could smoke. I smoked "in the open" about a pack to pack-and-a-half for 35 years but spent the last 3-4 years in the "closet". Whenever I heard a car pull up in our driveway I would panic. I learned ways to hide it - it was great when the listermint strips came out because I would just put one of those in my mouth and "presto" - smell like mouthwash. Anyway, it ruled my life and I was very unhappy with myself most of the time. It is just unbelievable to me that I am not alone with my private smoking problem. I am still too ashamed to tell my family or friends that I "fell off the wagon" so long ago, but now I will NEVER HAVE ANOTHER PUFF. I feel terrific and honestly feel like I have been reborn or something.

Quit for 1 week now!
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vonstev
vonstev

November 18th, 2004, 12:47 am #22

As one former closet smoker to another, congratulations!

Don't you just feel like the biggest weight has been lifted off your shoulders?

I think closet smokers have a slightly different quit experience than open smokers. On the one hand, it can be difficult because we may choose to make our quit "closet" as well, which means we don't have the support of others during our quit (and the dangerous junkie thinking of "if no one knows I'm quitting, no one will be disappointed if my quit fails" can also factor in.) Of course, this site really helps with that, since our exsmoking life is now known by a bunch of supportive people.

On the other hand, quitting gives closet smokers the added benefit of no longer having to live a lie (and all the stress and shame that went with it). I think if there were no other benefits to quitting, that alone makes it worth it.

I personally fessed up to a couple of friends about my former life as a closet smoker during the early days of my quit. It was difficult to do, but they were surprisingly supportive and it made me even more determined in my quit.

Today marks 100 days of living outside of the closet. And although my scale may disagree, I feel a hundred pounds lighter now that that stinky monkey is forever off my back.

steve
100days
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Oliviadawg
Oliviadawg

November 25th, 2004, 11:14 pm #23

This thread really hits home ... I'm not with my family today, but I can't wait to have my first Christmas at my parents without constantly finding excuses to leave the house in order to smoke. (The worst excuse I ever came up with? "Mom, I can't drink this 1% milk. I'm going to the grocery store to pick up some skim milk." Embarassing, but I really did that. And probably smoked about four cigarettes in a row in the Kroger parking lot.)

I hid my smoking from different people for different reasons. From my parents, because they are former smokers and have a lot of guilt that my brother and I picked up the family addiction (and because they had been so proud of my previous quit). From my husband, who never smoked, because I knew he thought it was smelly and gross. From my boss, because I thought it looked like a sign of weakness. From one of my best friends, because she is very anti-smoking and I hated her lectures.

I did so much lying and sneaking around from those closest to me and for what? To feed my junky cravings. I didn't even realize what a burden the closet smoking really was until I stopped doing it.

You are so right in that the only way to break free from closet smoking is to quit all together. This year I am thankful to be guilt-free nonsmoker. Happy Thanksgiving!
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Joel
Joel

August 8th, 2005, 6:40 pm #24

Smoke screen Some people go to great lengths to hide their habit By Joseph P. Kahn, Globe Staff | July 25, 2005

The penultimate episode of ''Everybody Loves Raymond" outed one of the series' recurrent characters -- Pat MacDougall, played by actress Georgia Engel -- as a secret cigarette smoker. Family members were stunned, if not amused, to discover Pat had been puffing away for years, concealing her habit with the aid of breath mints, air freshener, and other coverups.

One viewer who found herself laughing on the outside while cringing on the inside was Mary, a South Shore bank employee. For Mary, Pat's dirty little secret was more than an uproarious sitcom subplot. It was an awkward slice of life.

Her life.

At home, Mary (like others interviewed for this article, she requested that her full name not be used) leans out her bathroom window, blowing smoke into the sky so her boyfriend won't smell it. When smoking in her car, she rolls down the windows, no matter how cold or rainy it is outside. On visits to her parents' house, she'll duck behind a backyard tree to grab a quick cigarette, praying she doesn't get caught.

Forty-five years old, not breaking any laws, and Mary acts like a teenager sneaking her first Camel behind the school gym.

Oh, what some people will apparently do for a date with Mr. Butts.

''I don't want to hear the grief, mostly from family and friends," Mary explains when asked why she's reluctant to light up in front of people who know her. ''They're very judgmental."

Mary is hardly alone in preferring to smoke in secrecy rather than run afoul of societal attitudes toward cigarette smoking, which are negative enough by now to drive Joe Camel into the witness protection program.

Health issues notwithstanding, 46 million Americans continue to smoke, however, openly or not. According to one study, 70 percent have a desire to quit, and nearly half make an attempt to, yet only 10 percent enjoy much success.

While no study has quantified how many are ''secret" smokers, the number may be higher than most suspect. Following the revelation that ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, a former smoker, is being treated for lung cancer, New York magazine polled 100 smokers about how often they smoke, where they smoke, and other aspects of their habit. One-third confessed to hiding their smoking from parents, bosses, children, or spouses.

In at least one state, Georgia, teachers and other public employees risk losing their health insurance for a year if they're caught lying about their smoking habit.

''I understand the health part," says Donna, a receptionist for a Chelsea home-supplies company. ''It's feeling like a criminal that's disturbing."

Secret smoking isn't just sitcom fodder, either. No less a public figure than Laura Bush was pegged as a secret smoker (her press secretary would neither confirm nor deny press reports) as recently as last year, long after she supposedly gave up cigarettes in the early 1990s. According to an October 2002 Washington Post article, the first lady has been known to reach for a cigarette in times of stress, provided no photographers are there to catch her in the act.

The White House Weekly published a February 2004 article suggesting Bush was still struggling with the habit. According to the report, a White House waiter admitted scrambling to find the first lady a cigarette during a fund-raiser at the presidential residence.

And yet the Republic somehow still stands.

Donna can relate. She loved that ''Raymond" episode also, for much the same guilty-pleasure reason. Having tried to quit dozens of times, she can't quite seem to quit her Kools for keeps. Yet Donna never smokes around the office. She only does it on her lunch breaks when she's far from the workplace, where nobody she knows might catch her in the act.

''I feel like the office drug addict," Donna confesses. ''They all think it's nasty. They'd look down on me if they knew I smoked."

A few close friends share her secret habit, says Donna. Fortunately she's single and doesn't have a husband who's antismoking, as many of them do. Or she'd be bathing with Listerine and chain-chewing Altoids.

''How do you hide it completely?" she wonders. ''If you can't smoke in the car, do you pull over and light up? Come on. If you can hide something like that from your husband, you can hide anything, I guess."

Anecdotal evidence suggests not all closet smokers fit into one neat carton. Some resumed smoking recently, after going years without cigarettes, and seem unsure of what to do about their situation. The enjoyment they get from smoking is frequently undercut by guilt about compromising their health, they say, not to mention the health of their most intimate relationships.

''I won't buy [cigarettes], but every now and then I'll bum one from friends," says Lisa, who took up smoking (again) while traveling on company sales trips with colleagues who smoke. Her husband remains clueless about her tobacco jones -- or did until a couple of months ago, when she decided to quit again -- yet his ignorance seems to have worked to her advantage.

''I'd been fighting whether this was something temporary or permanent," Lisa says. ''If I acknowledged it to him, I was afraid it might become a full-time habit again. Now I just have one every once in a while."

Mark, an Orlando, Fla., dietitian, doesn't smoke at home or at work but still manages to go through 10 to 15 Marlboro Lights daily. Friends call him a closet smoker, he says, because he's so discreet about it they're amazed to see him smoke at all.

''I don't really hide it, but I certainly don't brag about it, either," Mark says. ''I have a daughter who knows I smoke and doesn't like it, though, so I don't do it around her. My intentions are to quit."

Still others say they've lied outright about their smoking and are prepared to do so again if it means avoiding an ugly or embarrassing confrontation.

Joan, a Boston-area college administrator, started smoking again recently after quitting a two-pack-a-day habit years ago. Her boyfriend, who's never seen her smoke, stopped by her apartment unexpectedly one day and smelled smoke. He asked suspiciously who'd been smoking.

''I had no one else to blame, so I told him I enjoyed one every once in a while," says Joan. ''It was totally untrue. Actually, I smoke about half a pack a day."

Then there was the couple's vacation weekend together, Joan says, when she didn't touch a cigarette for three days. As soon as her boyfriend dropped her off at home, however, she lit one up. ''I'm struggling with this," she admits.

What drives some smokers to cloak their habit in such secrecy?

One point on which most agree is that the social stigma around smoking makes it a hard habit to manage, and thus more tempting to disguise. Smoke-free office buildings, hotel rooms, bars, and restaurants have driven smokers into quasi-legal exile. Relatives and co-workers don't just frown at the habit, they recite scary statistics about secondhand smoke. Public-education campaigns and rising taxes on cigarettes have also helped make smoking both riskier and more costly than ever.

''You can drink socially and not be called an alcoholic," says Lisa. ''But if you smoke socially, you're a smoker. Period."

All smoking aside, how toxic might the behavior itself be?

While most smokers recognize that cigarettes are bad for them, says clinical psychologist Maryann Troiani, they may be less than truthful with themselves when it comes to measuring the harmful effects of secrecy.

''Psychologically, it's as bad as cheating on your spouse and hiding it," says Troiani, coauthor of ''Spontaneous Optimism: Proven Strategies for Health, Prosperity & Happiness." ''When you're not truthful, it's a big wedge in the relationship."

Whether it's having an extramarital affair or habitually visiting strip clubs or overeating in secret, it's ''all the same can of worms," according to Troiani. ''Some people view it as risk-taking behavior, as living their lives on the edge," she says. ''However, most feel uneasy and uncertain about keeping secrets."

Even Joan, when pressed, acknowledges that if she's forced to choose between smoking and her relationship, it would be a tough call. That's one reason her next vacation won't be with her boyfriend. Instead, Joan plans to meet a girlfriend in Europe, where smoking is a more accepted -- even cherished -- custom.

''When I get home," Joan says, ''we'll see what happens."

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at jkahn@globe.com.


© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Note: Smoking was referred to as a "habit" ten times in this article. The only reference to the term addiction was the line, ""I feel like the office drug addict."


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ChristyMay1977
ChristyMay1977

August 11th, 2005, 11:21 am #25

Being a closet smoker was way too difficult - I tried it, but only for three months (during a relapse last year) and decided it was WAY too much work so rather than come out of the closet with my smoking, I decided to quit again instead ~ I'm sure you'll agree that was by far the smarter decision.
What I don't really get is why these closet smokers (myself included) would ever really think that they were hiding anything. Regardless of the breath mints, mouth wash, washing your hands, hand lotion, purfume, airfreshner, whatever... the smoke smell STILL lingers, and it can still be detected. I have encountered many a closet smoker who thinks that they are hiding it, but really... it's such a strong and fowl smell, it can't be hidden easily. I used to try everything, nothing worked... until I resolved to having a full shower... wow!... what a pain in the butt that was ~ re-doing hair and make-up just for a smoke - it quickly became not worth it and thank God for that...
~*~ Grateful Every Single Day that I said GOOD-BYE to the closet! ~*~
Kisses,
Christy xx
Breathing Easy Since April 11th 2005 ~ That's 121 days!
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Roger (Gold)
Roger (Gold)

January 19th, 2006, 11:37 am #26

Hiding From The Truth,
Come Out Of the Closet!
Just One Day At A Time
Last edited by Roger (Gold) on April 14th, 2009, 6:29 am, edited 1 time in total.
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John (Gold)
John (Gold)

May 7th, 2006, 8:49 pm #27

Imagine the nightmare of trying to hide a chemical dependency that must be fed multiple times daily. Imagine the mountain of lies you'd need to tell. Imagine badly need a fix but not being able to do so. Imagine it happening often. My grandma Polito was a closet (bathroom) smoker. Oh how I wish she were still here and I could share what we've learned. Not being taught the law of addiction and the power of a puff is a horrible reason to die.

Even recovered closet smokers can share what they've learned without giving away their secret by simply printing and gifting copies of Joel's articles. They do not need to know were you've been in order to learn where they can go. Knowledge is an empowering tool to give. Still just one guiding principle ... no nicotine today, Never Take Another Puff, Dip or Chew! Celebrate this moment of freedom - you've won!
John (Gold x6)
Last edited by John (Gold) on April 14th, 2009, 6:30 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Marixpress
Marixpress

September 18th, 2006, 10:37 pm #28

I found out recently that my boyfriend who claimed to have quit had actually only become a closet smoker and was hiding it from me. I had a suspicion but I didn't want to ask him flat out. I accidentally found his "secret hiding place" two days ago when he asked me to get a cd out of the car. I was really upset and I don't know if I handled the situation correctly.


I asked him to answer one question for me. I asked if he had been smoking. He said no. Then I asked him to think harder and tell me when his last cigarette was. He lied again. I then told him that I found his pack in the car when looking for the cd. He tried to turn it around on me and say I was making a big deal out of it. Then he said that he didn't want to disappoint me so that's why he was hiding it. I told him that he should quit for himself and not for me and that he should never lie to me about it. I lost some trust in him since this. Just thinking about every lie he told me makes me cringe. He would tell me how good he has been doing with his quit and I would praise and encourage him. I feel like a fool. Sigh, but that's how bad the addiction is. It makes you lie to people you love. It's not worth it.
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whiteknucklinnewbie
whiteknucklinnewbie

March 31st, 2007, 6:00 am #29

Do you see this, Alex? We have been outed!
Thank you, Joel. Your information is priceless and life saving.
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Joel
Joel

March 31st, 2007, 6:09 am #30

I am not sure if you noticed, but I am not really big on "outing smokers."

From above:

How can you use someone's closet smoking status to a possible advantage to help the person quit? If you know someone is smoking and hiding it, don't let on that you know. As soon as you do they feel at liberty to smoke in peace and happiness, after all, they have nothing to hide now.
Instead, congratulate them in every way possible. Let them constantly know how proud you are of them. Lay it on thick. The guilt will eat them alive. Maybe it will make them realize the lie they are living and embarrass them into one of two actions.

One, they may just fess up. At least you will have a little more trust of them. But it may take another more positive turn. They may feel so guilty that they quit smoking. The pleasure of a drug fix will be short lived when the guilt of every puff is added to the other obvious problems that go along with smoking.

The more smoking is recognized as a liability, interfering with a person's health, life, money, self-esteem, the way they smell, look, are perceived by others, and even their personal integrity is at risk as is in the case here, the more likely logic will finally prevail. The only logical solution to avoid such a way of life is to never take another puff!

Joel
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John (Gold)
John (Gold)

September 23rd, 2007, 10:34 pm #31

The below article by Elizabeth Leland does a wonderful job of highlighting relapse, chemical dependency and life as a closet smoker. What the author repeatedly demonstrates is a failure to grasp the distinction between a habit and addiction. Why so many uses of the word "habit"? Because she, herself, like most of society, has a long-term habit of looking at chemical dependency upon smoking nicotine as a "habit." External quitting program links at the end of the article have been omitted as we'd like to keep our newer members here, reading, learning and growing in understanding, and not having pharmacology pushed upon them. John (Gold x8)



The secret smoker ELIZABETH LELAND - [url=mailto:eleland@charlotteobserver.com]eleland@charlotteobserver.com[/url]
Posted on Fri, Sep. 21, 2007
The Charlotte Observer, Charlotte, N.C., USA
He would, he says, never cheat on his wife. But each time he smokes a Camel Light, it feels like an infidelity.
He promised to quit before they married.

He stubbed out his cigarette, washed his face with scented soap and for two months he abstained. He said his wedding vows, toasted her with champagne and honeymooned at a resort, all without a cigarette.

Back in Charlotte, as he faced work again, he felt an irresistible urge to smoke.

He opened his desk drawer and there it was, a pack of Camel Lights he had hidden. He reached in. With more desire than regret, he got up and returned to his old haunt, an alcove behind his office where he knew he would find the other smokers standing around a terra cotta flowerpot.

The first couple of puffs tasted bitter the way he remembers his first cigarette in junior high. Then a familiar heady adrenaline rush kicked in, and he was hooked all over again.

He is The Closet Smoker, and that pack of Camel Lights in his desk is his dirty little secret.

You may know someone like him: an alcoholic perhaps, or a gambler or drug abuser. The pleasure they get from their addictions makes them do things they would not ordinarily do: indulge in risky behavior and lie about it.

The Closet Smoker knows better. In so many other ways he takes care of himself and the people around him.

He lifts weights, takes a multivitamin and avoids fast food. He enjoys a good bottle of wine and an occasional sushi dinner out, but he's not extravagant. If his car needs an oil change or tire rotation, he does it himself.

He's not yet 40, a professional in Charlotte. His boss says she's impressed by his savvy and creativity, and by the little things he does to help around the office, such as cleaning up the kitchen.

Most evenings, he cooks dinner for his wife. He phones his mother every day, or sends an instant message. Weekends, he might take his daughter golfing or to Carowinds.

On Sundays, you'll find him in church.

His best friends know his secret. Everybody at work knows. But not the people who mean the most to him, his wife, his mother and his daughter.

He's embarrassed to admit he lies to them. He says he wouldn't lie for any other reason. He feels guilty, ashamed that he's capable of deceiving the three most important people in his life for a cigarette. He worries what will happen if they find out.

They're right, and he knows it. He shouldn't smoke. It's bad for him. He researched smoking for a science project in eighth grade and discovered that a few drops of nicotine in liquid form can kill you.

Years of smoking, he knows, might kill him, too.

The nature of addiction

The Closet Smoker is sensible about most things. Yet his compulsion to smoke overpowers his common sense.That's the nature of addiction.

It's part of being human. Our brains are wired to reinforce behaviors we need to survive. Eating, drinking, sex. These behaviors stimulate pleasure circuits in the brain. Nicotine over-stimulates the circuits. It floods the brain with a neurotransmitter called dopamine that makes us feel good. Cocaine and heroin act in similar ways.

One reason nicotine and these other drugs are so addictive is they work on the same brain circuitry we use for survival.

Our brains become hijacked. We have to have more.

Scientists have turned to brain imaging to learn about addiction. They discovered that the decision-making part of an addict's brain, the region that controls judgment, is no longer as effective. That could help explain why we become hooked on things when we know we shouldn't.

Nicotine.

Cocaine.

Alcohol.

Steroids.

Gambling.

Shoplifting.

Caffeine.

Sugar.

Work.

Sex.

We're all capable of addictive behavior.

Anything to look cool

The Closet Smoker's initiation came in middle school. His older brother smoked, and The Closet Smoker occasionally sneaked one.

He wanted to like cigarettes. He wanted to look grown-up like his brother.

But what he remembers most from those early attempts is a burning sensation on the tip of his tongue and in his chest, followed by a fit of coughing.

He bought his first pack freshman year in high school. He was 15. State law then as now said no one under 18 could buy cigarettes, and for a while he bummed off older friends. Then he learned about a convenience store on the way to school where the clerk didn't check IDs.

He asked for Marlboros. Everybody he knew smoked Marlboros, the cowboy's brand, America's favorite cigarette. He wanted to be like everybody. He paid for that first pack with money he earned bagging groceries at the Winn-Dixie.

He tucked the little red and white box in his backpack and headed off to school, a member of a new fraternity.

He ignored the taste. It was more important to him to be like everybody than to actually enjoy smoking. And it didn't take too many cigarettes before the taste grew on him like the taste of another adult pleasure he had learned to like, black coffee.

He says most students smoked. The fortunes of their town, like so many towns in North Carolina, were built on tobacco. It was still the state's biggest cash crop when he was in school, and even now brings in $400 million a year.

Of course, teenagers smoked.

Many of their parents did, too. The Closet Smoker's dad smoked three packs a day for 30 years before giving it up.

High school students could smoke between classes, at recess and at lunch with a parent's permission. The Closet Smoker's parents didn't approve, but he says he got so he could get in a smoke in 45 seconds and no one ever caught him.

He remembers the night of a basketball game, hanging out in the parking lot with friends, most of them sneaking beer, then one person asked if anyone had a cigarette and another person wanted one, too, and then another. He was the only one with a pack, and he passed it around.

That night, he was The Man.

Loved ones worry

His first wife, he says, hated his smoking.Before they married, he was up to a pack and a half a day. Thirty cigarettes every day.

He says she complained about the smell, and the taste when they kissed, and the stale odor of his clothes, and the butts in the flowerpot on the deck.

Most of all, he says, she hated what smoking might do to him: the heart disease and bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, lung cancer and other cancers.

Everyone knows smoking kills. Half of all Americans who smoke will die because of it, about 400,000 people every year, twice as many people as die from alcohol, drugs, fires, car accidents, homicide, suicide and AIDS combined.

Kids in preschool know smoking kills. Yet more than 46 million people in our country smoke. The Closet Smoker, like many addicts, assumes it won't happen to him.

He tried to quit.

He really did, he says, and once he almost succeeded.

He went without a cigarette for several months after college and he felt much better. He had more stamina. He no longer had that nagging smoker's cough.

Then he took a job at a company where most employees smoked. They stopped working every day at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. for 15 minutes of smoking and socializing.

Within two weeks, he was in there with them.

He tried to hide his habit after his daughter was born, but when she was 4 she caught him.

He had sneaked out to the patio like a teenager. She went looking for him. She opened the door and there stood her father, a cigarette dangling between his lips.

Daddy, that's nasty!

He felt ashamed. He snuffed out the butt between his fingers and flushed it down the toilet. But he didn't quit. From that day on, he just made sure he never again smoked around her.

He doesn't want his daughter to smoke.

His parents didn't want him to.

His dad once offered him $1,000 if he would quit.

The deception

The Closet Smoker thinks he's fooling his new wife.

He smokes his last cigarette at work around 4:30 most afternoons, then washes away the smell from his face with scented soap. He drives home, car windows open, chewing gum or sucking mints. He chews gum on weekends just so she won't wonder why he's always chewing gum when he gets home from work.

He doesn't smoke in his car. He doesn't smoke on Saturdays or Sundays. He sometimes smokes when he's out to lunch, but mostly he confines his smoking to the alcove behind his office.

He and two co-workers knock on each other's doors on their way out, four or five times a day, more on bad days. The Closet Smoker says he enjoys the socializing as much as the smoking. If he didn't smoke, how could he justify taking so many breaks?

They stand in the alcove in 104-degree heat. They're out there in freezing rain. They can't be picky. Finding a place to smoke is not easy any more.

You certainly can't smoke at school. In your office? Few businesses allow it. Even outdoors in many places, you're a pariah; no one wants to breathe your secondhand smoke.

As bare and ugly as the alcove is, The Closet Smoker looks forward to being there every Monday morning.

What happens inside

Every Monday morning, after two days without nicotine, his first cigarette gives him a kick more powerful than any he'll get all week.He balances the Camel Light between his lips, then cuffs his hands around his lighter. A flame shoots up. The tip of the cigarette burns. He inhales, drawing smoke deep inside. Particles of tar, the same stuff used to pave highways, carry the nicotine through his windpipe, then down his left and right bronchi and into his lungs.

He holds onto the smoke for a few seconds before exhaling.

The nicotine flows through small tubes in his lungs called bronchioles and into millions of tiny air sacs that puff up every time he inhales. From there, it enters his bloodstream.

It takes about eight seconds to reach his brain.

Before he can take another puff, he feels the effects of the first. The gratification is immediate and that's one reason nicotine is so addictive.

He feels a lift of energy. His heart beats faster, his blood pressure rises. He is focused, more attentive. He feels ready to tackle work again.

What he doesn't feel are the poisons circulating through his body:

Cyanide, benzene, formaldehyde, methanol and acetylene, ammonia, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, more than 4,000 chemicals in each cigarette, the same chemicals used to kill rats, make gasoline and nail polish, and embalm dead bodies.

The nicotine is what hooked him; it's the chemicals in cigarettes that may kill him.

They're the reason this summer he couldn't swim underwater from one end of his apartment pool and back again without coming up for air.

He says his wife blamed his lack of stamina on years of smoking, not knowing he is still at it.

A partial confession

Since they married, he says she has confronted him a few times about the smell of cigarettes.

His heart beat faster, his blood pressure rose, but not in a pleasant way. He says he confessed. Sort of. He says he told her each time that, yes, he smoked that day. He didn't tell her he smokes every day at work.

He says she hates the smell and the taste and, most of all, she hates what cigarettes might do to him. How could he promise to be with her forever, when he shortens forever by several minutes or more with every cigarette?

He says he had every intention of quitting. He's had every intention of quitting every time he's tried. Most smokers want to quit, but it usually takes several tries. The Closet Smoker says he has tried 15 to 20 times.

What he tells himself

Maybe he can't quit.So he gives himself permission, the way addicts do: "I firmly believe that a lot of lung cancer that's smoking related is because people sit inside and continuously breathe in the smoke. I don't smoke inside."

He rationalizes, the way addicts do, that his smoking doesn't affect his family because he doesn't smoke in front of them.

But The Closet Smoker is a smart guy and when he hears what he's just said, he knows it doesn't make sense. "Now that I've said it out loud, I guess it's a little short-sighted of me because I don't see it as directly affecting them. Long-sighted, my health and my early demise will affect them."

Most of all, he says, he hates deceiving the people he loves.

Smoking Kills, Yet We Light Up

One in 20 middle school students in North Carolina smokes cigarettes, according to the American Lung Association. By high school, one in five students in the state smokes, and the percentage grows slightly among adults. They smoke despite evidence that smoking is responsible for nearly one in five deaths in the United States. Consider these statistics from the CDC:

• Smoking causes 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in women, and nearly 80 percent in men, and many other types of cancer.

• If you smoke, you're two to four times as likely to develop coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

• Smoking doubles a person's risk for stroke.

In the Closet

More than 46 million people in the United States smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No one knows how many are closet smokers. After news reports that ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, a former smoker, had lung cancer, New York magazine polled 100 smokers; one-third said they hid their habit from parents, bosses, children or spouses.

How We Reported the Story

Elizabeth Leland interviewed Professor Steven Childers of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, who studies the effect of drug addiction on the brain, and Dr. Cindy Miner, a deputy director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Leland also researched addiction and nicotine through publications such as "Psychology Today" and on Web sites of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Stanford University, Harvard University and others. She read about the history and economics of tobacco, and got data from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and the American Cancer Society. She interviewed The Closet Smoker and his boss. He agreed to be the subject of a story on condition that she not reveal his identity.

Elizabeth Leland: 704-358-5074; [url=mailto:eleland@charlotteobserver.com]eleland@charlotteobserver.com[/url].

STORY BEHIND THE STORY


Elizabeth Leland
My head gets all stuffed up around cigarette smoke, so reporting this story wasn't always easy. But The Closet Smoker intrigued me: I wanted to understand his addiction and how he keeps it secret.

Copyright 2007 Charlotte Oberserver - All Rights Reserved
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swrld
swrld

October 23rd, 2007, 10:48 am #32

Joel,

Thanks for the thread! It was absolutely exhausting maintaining my habit and keeping it a secret. What a roller coaster!

Kristi
3 weeks and almost 6 days
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GarnetIsMyRealName
GarnetIsMyRealName

October 25th, 2007, 12:46 am #33

It's been eight days now, but this thread really hit me. I was pretty much a closet smoker, smoking only in my car - terrified that my Dad or boyfriend would ask me to drive somewhere, or that they would go get something I forgot in my car and smell the smoke - or worse, find the pack of cigarettes. I burned two cigarette holes in the driver's seat, so I bought a seat cover. I feel so much safer from the steely eyes of my Dad since I quit, since there is nothing to hide in my car anymore.
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bebeloves7
bebeloves7

January 4th, 2008, 10:56 pm #34

More immediate of a risk is living a lie that places them in constant fear of being exposed. This will drastically reduce the amount smoked. The closet smoker will only smoke when the opportunity permits. But that means spending numerous hours every day, and possibly even entire days in a state of constant withdrawal.

This article really hit home for me. It is exactly what I have experienced from the time that I started. I was in a constant state of withdrawal and didn't even realize it. I rationalized to myself that I didn't smoke much so I was okay. HA! Pretty sad that deep down I thought I was "better" than other people who smoked more, when really I was just so ignorant that I was causing my entire life to be lived in a constant state of withdrawal. I think that I was trying to hide what I was doing not only from other people, but ultimately, from myself.

Thank you for posting the article!
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soulagement0
soulagement0

May 20th, 2008, 2:59 pm #35

This is just such a great post, I have read it twice from beginning to end. Really so much applied to me - being a closet smoker I missed out on so many events, activities, family time.... It really dominated every decision I'd make about where and how to spend my time. I'm going to viti my folks soon - the first time in 20 years where I won't be "sneaking" nicotine fixes. I truly think it will change everything about spending time with my family, which I have always enjoyed, even during withdrawal!

Thanks Why Quit, thanks Freedom, thanks Joel, thanks everyone!

Smobriety comes to: 0Y 1M 1W 4D 16H 48Mns €-Saved to date: €231.70
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