The Closet Smoker

Joined: 13 Jan 2009, 23:02

17 Nov 2004, 07:39 #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!

Joined: 07 Jan 2009, 19:21

18 Nov 2004, 00:47 #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.


Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:58

25 Nov 2004, 23:14 #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!

Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:57

08 Aug 2005, 18:40 #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 Image

© 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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Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:58

11 Aug 2005, 11:21 #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! ~*~
Christy xx
Breathing Easy Since April 11th 2005 ~ That's 121 days!

Roger (Gold)
Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:58

19 Jan 2006, 11:37 #26

Hiding From The Truth,
Come Out Of the Closet!
Just One Day At A Time
Last edited by Roger (Gold) on 14 Apr 2009, 06:29, edited 1 time in total.

John (Gold)
Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:57

07 May 2006, 20:49 #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 14 Apr 2009, 06:30, edited 1 time in total.

Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:57

18 Sep 2006, 22:37 #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.

Joined: 19 Dec 2008, 00:28

31 Mar 2007, 06:00 #29

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

Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:57

31 Mar 2007, 06:09 #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!