Blowing away the ashes Published Nov. 18, 2014 By Senior Airman Ashley L. Gardner 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. -- Everyone always wonders how it starts. When does a habit become an addiction? What created the problem? What makes someone a smoker? The reasons for each individual may be different. The events that lead me to become a smoker are different, but I never thought it would be a long term problem. A problem that I hope I can make the effort to change Nov. 20. This particular day marks the American Cancer Society's 39th Great American Smokeout, encouraging smokers to use that date to make a plan to quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. I know that by taking on this challenge I will be making an important step towards a healthier life, one that can led to reducing the risk of cancer. Occasionally I back track to where it all began, thinking of all the events the lead me to this crutch. I remember the day I started smoking. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, had work issues, life issues, and I had to get it all out of my system. I sent a text to my best friend summing up how I felt and within minutes he responded, "Do you want to talk?" I explained to him briefly that we could talk about it over a smoke break after the duty day ended. After work, we met at the old wooden smoke pit area by the dormitory, the wind blowing sand and fallen leaves making tiny tornadoes on the ground. I looked down for a split second thinking silently. This is where it all began for me, not fully thinking about the decision I was making, and not thinking about how it would affect me in the long run. Holding a Black and Mild cigar in my hand, I look back up and say, "Let's not make smoking a habit." He glared at me and jokingly responded, "I agree, I don't really care for smoking anyway it's just something to do when we talk about our problems." As we sat, we talked about everything throughout the day and the week, we reflected on past experiences, and before we could even finish talking we both looked down as we were only left with the cigar filter and silence. The conversation was put out along with the ashes. Smoking wasn't a problem then; however, the more events that occurred throughout the year, the more we found ourselves traveling to the smoke pit after work. At one point we even decided to smoke a cigar every Sunday night, just to try to start the week right. One particular night I asked him, "What are we doing? What sense does this make and who smokes to start the week off right? This isn't good, we're killing ourselves." At that moment we agreed that we could quit at any given moment, so that's what we did, right then and there we quit. Or so we thought. As Monday rolled along we went to work and did our job. Same on Tuesday and Wednesday but as we got closer to the weekend the days felt a little longer, and with the feeling of thinking that we were in control, the decision of making it through the week was our motivation to celebrate by buying a cigar. Every situation, whether it was something that made us mad, nervous, sad, or confused, it just became an opportunity for us to smoke, just to talk. Things started to get hectic at work. We didn't enjoy being there with the office politics and arguing and I wondered what we could do to make the day go by faster. A solution came to mind and I walked next door, so we could grab lunch. Venting over a day that was only half-finished, I stopped him mid conversation to say, "Let's go to the shoppette after we are done with lunch so we can smoke." So that's what we did. Later that day we took yet another smoke break and the practice soon became the thing to do to avoid being frustrated at work. While out at the smoke pit we began to meet people just to talk. We enjoyed engaging with others and taking a breather from everything. The only dilemma we faced was the time it took to smoke a cigar. We picked up smoking filtered cigars, and shortly after I noticed that he had started smoking cigarettes. I ranted on and on about how disgusting they are, how bad they taste, and how bad they smell and the only reason he could give me was how quick they are to smoke. I knew I didn't want to try them, but then again, his reasoning made sense. I didn't notice the addiction until one day I just wanted to smoke, but didn't have a lot of time, so I tried a cigarette and hated it. But it became the norm. Who would have thought now, two years later, that one of my most difficult decisions would be to let go of my addiction willingly? There are days when I tell myself I'm done, it's over, I quit. Then I fall back into the trap of buying another pack, and with every pack bought the words, "this is my last pack" follow. I never understood how something so small could have this much of an effect on people. Why is it so hard to let these little tobacco sticks go? How much does it take to refrain from buying and buying? I understand it now though, it just happens one day. Once you make the decision to try something, consequences often follow - whether good or bad. I need to end this before it's too late, before I get cancer. It's scary to think that tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States, and more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes. I don't want to be a part of that statistic. Even though it will be tough, I am working on a plan to quit smoking on the 20th. I'm sure there will be days I feel like I have to buy another pack, when I'm completely frustrated and have an undeniable urge to cave in, but this is not mission impossible. I will be challenged, but I accept that challenge.