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Jack Simpson - Give yourself the gift of kicking a bad habit

Why is it that even when people know better they gamble with their lives every day? They willingly take on and keep the deadly habit of smoking. Once addicted, it is very difficult to quit.

You can see how hard it is on smokers by visiting your local courthouse while court is in session. Watch all the people rush to the doors at break times so they can step outside for a nicotine fix. How did so many get started puffing away every hour on the hour?

Each individual has his or her own story. As a youngster, I recall being influenced not only by classmates but by what I saw in the movies. Film celebrities puffed away like smoking was essential to tell each and every story. These stars made kids think smoking was sophisticated and the grown up thing to do. Yes, we adolencents were impressionable. We joined in smoking because everyone seemed to be using tobacco.

As a combat infantryman during World War II, the US Army provided free cigarettes. On training breaks they told us to "smoke 'em if you got 'em." We puffed away, burning up pack after pack of those Lucky Strikes, Old Golds and Chesterfields.

Long gone were the warnings of our mothers, who told us smoking was not healthy. We felt invincible as we tossed health rules to the winds. We were thinking about being grownups and not about cancer, heart and lung disease, or emphysemia.

The years rolled by and we kept on puffing away, unable to stop smoking because we were addicted to nicotine. Some remembered the warnings, tried to stop, yet found it was not easy. Some of our friends had already died from lung related diseases brought on by smoking. My brother died of a heart attack while still smoking. Yes, smoking had a grip on the lives of many of us and we did not want to deny ourselves "a pleasure" even if it might eventually kill us.

We went around stupidly with carbon monoxide in our blood, nicotine increasing our heart rate and raising our blood pressure, stained fingers, smoker's breath, a reduced sense of smell and the inability to taste our food. Why? So we could keep on gambling with our lives. Heart attacks happened to others, not to us.

Maturity and eldership brought some of us to our senses. We finally saw the light and quit smoking "cold turkey." No nicotine patches, chewing gum or prescribed drugs for us. We went through painful withdrawal, kicked the nicotine habit and have been smoke free for years. We have, hopefully, increased our longivity, but bad health effects could still come back to haunt us.

When you tune in your television and hear drug sales reps tell you to "ask your doctor" if drug "A" or "B" is good for you, also ask about nicotine. Doctors are warning every day, and have been for years, about the harmful effects of smoking.

Throughout most of our lives, our mothers and our healthcare providers have tried to discourage our smoking. We did not listen. It is not too late. Listen up one more time and toss that smoking paraphernalia into the nearest trash can. Stop gambling with your precious life. Don't say you cannot do it. Get serious. Kick a bad habit. Do it as a Christmas gift to yourself, and remember you cannot really stop smoking if you "fall off the wagon" now and then, as the president-elect says he does. You gotta stop once and for all!

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.