Yes, You ARE A Lemming

Raise your hand if your mother ever asked teenaged-you “Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you have to – what if everyone was running off a cliff – would you?”

Is there anyone who didn’t raise their hand? Well, much as it sticks in the craw (or is that beak?) the fact is, our mothers were right. But maybe not in the way you might expect. In an ingeniously designed study based on Framingham data (for more info on the famous Framingham study, read the Doc Gurley post on Black Future Month), researchers discovered that smokers don’t quit in isolation – they quit in droves. Kind of like running off the cliff – and discovering you can fly.

HealthDay states: “If your spouse stops smoking, you’re 67 percent less likely to continue smoking. If your friend kicks the habit, it’s about 36 percent less likely that you’ll be smoking. When a sibling gives up cigarettes, your risk of smoking decreases by 25 percent, and it drops by 34 percent if a co-worker in a small office quits smoking, according to the study in the May 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.” But the downside to this information is that, by quitting in droves, we leave the remaining smokers more marginalized, where they clump (yes, like lemmings) together and become more resistant to quitting – kind of like they’ve chosen a different cliff to run off together. So how do you pragmatically use this information?

Reality check #1: Are you the last in your group to still smoke? If so, celebrate. Use this realization, instead of getting cranky, to ride the current of support for quitting. Resist the urge to meet and chat up new people in the smoker’s clump outside. Join the lemmings who are soaring, no longer weighted down by the baggage of cigarettes.

Reality check #2: Are you constantly trying to quit, but your neighbor/co-worker/partner/brother all hand you a cigarette the minute you try to start a conversation? If so, you may be in the middle of a stampede that’s heading for a cliff you don’t want. Instead of beating yourself up for failed attempts to quit, think about how you can maybe move to the edge of the group. Make new ties with some non-smokers, branch out and spread your wings in a new social circle. Don’t let your garrulous, hoarse-voiced smoking friends take you down with them – at least, not without an attempt to save yourself – and perhaps the people you care about.

Reality check #3: Buddy Up. It’s time to pretend you’re on a first grade field trip, venturing out into the scary world. When you want to quit, you need all the buddies you can get. Put the planning time into the process up front to make sure this time it sticks. Many people will quit for someone else – even when they can’t quit for themselves. Use the power of  your relationships to save all of your group from smoking-related misery and heartache. Talk about how much it costs, what you could do as a group with the money, how it eventually takes its toll, how you’re not in high school any more and 40-year-old smokers just don’t have the same appeal, ask around about how many of you are coughing in the morning – every morning. Cigarettes are a bond, but your relationships can survive cutting that tie. Use the buddy system – and try to make sure no one gets left behind.

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