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Stop Smoking, Embrace Vanity

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There are so many reasons to quit smoking but it’s hard to know where to start.
Indulging in vanity and kicking the habit for the sake of your skin may be the most effective a motivator. Let me explain.

First, it’s helpful to know what cigarette smoke actually does to your skin. It causes premature aging. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are multiple ways this happens. Nicotine constricts blood vessels in the outer layers of skin, reducing the flow of oxygen and vital nutrients that keep skin soft and smooth. At the same time, chemicals in cigarette smoke damage the collagen and elastin fibers that support skin under the surface. Therefore, smoking takes a double toll, causing your skin to both wrinkle and sag.

“So what?” you might be thinking. “Isn’t it vain to quit smoking for the sake of your skin?” Perhaps, but that may be just the point.

First confession: I smoked for about 15 years. I started in school, when all my friends smoked and I wanted to be cool. I didn’t smoke a lot at first, but over the years I got up to almost a pack a day. Like most people, I found it dreadfully difficult to quit. Of course, I was well aware that smoking would have an impact on my health and possibly shorten my life, but it seemed like such an intangible concept. There was no way to know exactly what the effects would be. When I thought about quitting, the messages I gave myself were all negative, usually starting with the word “should.” “I should stop smoking or I might get cancer.” That kind of approach just didn’t work for me.

Second confession: I’m a little bit vain. My husband might say more than a little bit. Don’t we all care how we look to some extent? That’s where I’m going with all this. I used vanity to my advantage in finally kicking the smoking habit.

I didn’t know very much about the impact of smoking on the skin when I quit, but I was successful due to vanity. I worked in a large office tower at the time. Those who smoked had to leave the building to indulge, and as I came and went during the course of my week I would see smokers clustered near the door. For the most part, they weren’t top or even mid level executives; they didn’t strike me as people who would be viewed as company leaders. Call it bias if you wish, but the people huddled together rain or shine struck me as desk workers with less potential for advancement than those who did not smoke.

That notion flipped a switch in my brain somehow. I vowed to rid the habit so I could refrain from joining the smoking group again. A little voice in my head said, “I want to be a non-smoker.” I had, without realizing what was happening, stopped negative messages like: smoking is bad for my health and I really should quit. I wanted something positive. I wanted to be a non-smoker.

Though it grew out of a condemnation of sorts, I finally had a vision for myself. I am non-smoker going places in her career. My suggestion is that you might be able to use vanity in the same way. One way to do it might be to think about your skin. What if you said to yourself that you want to have smooth, supple, radiant skin now and into your golden years? You want to have a youthful glowing look as long as possible? You might find yourself suddenly thinking, “I want to be a non-smoker.”

I expect many people would argue with the concept of using vanity to break a bad habit. All I can say is that for me, those “should” reasons don’t usually work very well. Maybe you feel the same way. Maybe the thought of beautiful skin could play a part in your vision for the future. Add in sweet-smelling hair, clothes and fresh breath and who knows? You could be on the road to being a non-smoker. Go vanity!

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I know from personal experience that the "one cigarette" today usually ends up with my buying a pack a day or two later. That's the reason I've quit so many times. This time I'm going to visualize that one cigarette having the potential for a domino cascade. Then visualizing how happy my lungs will be if I stay smoke free.

The one thing that strikes me the hardest with a positive feeling when not smoking is not being "tethered" to that pack of smokes; actually being able to leave the house without making sure I have them with me. Then there's the feeling of having clean air around me! I found a great free resource today online I'm going to share with EmpowHer members. It's a program hosted by the Canadian Cancer Society. It will email (or text) you positive messages every day to reinforce your motivation to quit or stay off the smokes.

Thanks for your support Cathy!

March 12, 2010 - 4:11pm

Hi Trish:

It's so nice to hear this feedback from you! Thank you so much!

It definitely is hard to "stay quit." I also tried over and over. Focusing on the benefits and having a positive view of myself in the future was the only thing that worked for me. (I still feel bad about that knee-jerk judgement of the smoking group outside my office building, but those folks were the trigger for my brain saying, "I want to be a non-smoker.")

I applied every other trick I could think of as well, from giving up the things that go with smoking (coffee, phone conversations) for a few days to doing more exercise to replace smoking urges.

If I had known other tricks related to my vain streak, like helping my skin look better, I'm sure they would have helped too.

And, by the way, if you backslide and have one cigarette, or even one occasionally, in my view that doesn't need to mean you are automatically "un-quit." As I was in the process of quitting, I would backslide from time to time and have one smoke, or half a smoke. It literally took years before I knew I would never have another cigarette as long as I lived.

Best of luck to you!!

March 12, 2010 - 3:43pm

Thanks Cathy, you've just added one more tool to my arsenal to help me "stay quit". I've quite several times over the last few months, each time getting to 6 to 9 days without a cigarette and then I relapse. I'm currently on day 2 and feeling strong. In light of what I've read in your article, I'm going to create some positive statements that reflect the benefits of "staying quit" this time and post them around the house. Maybe they'll help hubby too; he's on day 2 as well. Thanks Cathy!

March 12, 2010 - 9:48am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.