Mark was a smoker when we met, 18 years ago, and he’s smoked ever since. I wish he didn’t, but I can’t convince him to stop.     

The first boy I ever fell for, at 17, was also a smoker. It went along with his scruffy, adorable “bad boy” vibe. I loved those smoky kisses. When Steve lit up, I snuggled closer.     

Now I’m 57, and what was irresistibly edgy in a 17-year-old boy seems idiotic and self-destructive in a man pushing 60. When Mark smokes, I glower at him. If he wants to kiss me, he has to brush his teeth. When he lights up, I move away.     

I can forgive myself for falling for a smoker at 17. Who has any sense at that age? And at 17, lung cancer, if it’s going to happen, is in the distant future.   

At 57, it could be right around the corner. 

I was 40 when I met Mark. I wasn’t crazy about the fact that he smoked, but he was so dear and funny and good to me that I overlooked it.  

Soon I stopped overlooking it and began to nag. Over the years, loving a smoker has turned me into quite the kvetch. But I have yet to find the magic words to make him quit.  

A few years ago, Mark’s mother, also a smoker, died of lung cancer. You’d think that going through that might finally make him stop. It didn’t even slow him down.    

My father, a psychoanalyst, never smoked cigarettes, but he did enjoy the occasional cigar. (Insert your own joke here.) Although Mom loathed smoking, she tolerated Dad’s infrequent cigars, as long as he smoked them in his office, with the door shut. The rest of the house was off-limits.  

I’m less tolerant than my mother. If Mark wants to smoke, he smokes outside. It’s partly the smell. But beyond the fact that the man I love smells like an ashtray, I hate to see him slowly killing himself. 

And when I protest, he just jokes about it. 

“Are you about to light up another cancer stick?” I’ll ask as he heads outside, cigarette in hand.  

“I prefer the term “coffin nail,” he’ll say mildly. 

Mark’s 20-year-old daughter is a smoker.  “Would you be more likely to quit if your dad didn’t smoke?” I asked her once.

“Of course,” she said.

When I repeated this conversation to Mark, it made him very unhappy. But he kept right on smoking. 

Recently, I decided to just give up. I couldn’t get Mark to quit smoking. But I could quit nagging. I resolved to accept Mark for who he was and finally let him be.

Not a single friend or family member supported me in this decision. “You’ve got to keep trying,” everyone insisted. Even Mark didn’t want me to stop. “You do it because you love me,” he said. 

When I was growing up, Alvia, our nanny, smoked. (I adored Alvia. Could this be why I’ve always been drawn to smokers?) My sister and I guilt-tripped her relentlessly. We told her she’d get cancer. We hid her cigarettes. We tore them up and threw them in the toilet. 

Despite our best efforts, Alvia smoked—a lot—for the 11 years she took care of us.  When I gave birth to my son 24 years ago, Alvia offered to visit for a week to help me care for him. I wanted this so much that I resolved not to say a word about her smoking. She could rock the baby’s cradle with one hand and hold a lit cigarette in the other. Having her there would be worth it.   

But when Alvia arrived, she told me she’d decided to quit. She regretted smoking for the many years she’d taken care of me, and didn’t want my son to spend the first weeks of his life with a smoker. So when the baby was born, she stopped. Cold turkey. She hasn’t touched a cigarette since. 

Smokers quit when they are ready to quit. And not before. But there’s always hope. 

All I can do is continue to nag. And kvetch. And push Mark out the door whenever he lights up, even if it’s 10 below outside.   

And hope for the best. 

Photo by rustybrick via Flickr.


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  • Bradley Dieringer March 9, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    People smoke even after knowing the bad effects of smoking. I myself was a chain smoker for atleast 7 years before I decided that whatever happens I must quit smoking. Today it is already 6 years and I’ve not smoked a single cigarette. I used to drink lemon water with salt on a regular basis to remove nicotine from my system.

  • Julie November 10, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    My partner is a smoker too… it truly is his only vice… alas it still drives me nuts!

  • Alice November 5, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    With the Great American Smokeout coming up on Nov 15, thought this post from last year may offer some extra incentive to quit.

  • Roz Warren November 5, 2012 at 5:53 am

    I’m grateful for these comments — thanks for posting!

  • jody November 4, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    I would apply the “three c ‘s ” I got from Alanon: you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it and you can’t cure it.” But you can keep kicking him outside! Good luck.

  • Kathy Dockry November 4, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Roz, I too decided to stop nagging my husband. He’s smart, believed all the medical evidence, and yet continued to smoke. Months later and entirely on his own, he began to consider quitting. I suspect my nagging had put him in defensive mode and made him entrenched in his thinking. Once I stopped, I gave him the freedom to make choice. The final push he needed, however, was a conversation we had as he debated whether he was going to quit or not. I made it clear it was his choice, but for the first time I expressed the sorrow and hurt I felt when in knowing he was intentionally risking the chance of us growing old together. That’s all it took–he quit within the month. He had a hard time doing it for his own sake, but he was willing to do it for love. Sometimes the hardest commitments to make are those we make to ourselves. We’re more likely to tackle the hard stuff for the sake of those who we love. Good luck with your own resolution of this, and let us know how it turns out!

  • Richard Bready November 4, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    This essay makes an interesting pendant to your NYTimes article about abandoning various hopeful, unrealistic, and perhaps ultimately burdensome plans and goals, as a form of wisdom. I support you in your decision. And in your purely practical distaste, which is realistically selfish. “‘Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine,’ but I feel much sicker when our breaths combine.” Those little Listerine strips are very useful.

  • Leslie in Portland November 3, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Thank your for telling us this story, Roz. I completely agree that “[s]mokers quit when they are ready to quit. And not before. But there’s always hope.” My father, a physician, smoked until about 1970, when, based on the medical literature, he decided to quit. And he did, cold turkey, like Alvia. Keep searching for ways to help Mark get to the place where he is ready to quit. Even though he continued smoking after you told him that his daughter had said she would be more likely to quit smoking if he did not smoke, I bet that it moved him down the path toward being ready to quit. Nagging, on the other hand, may demonstrate to him that you love him, but it also may be counterproductive in helping him move toward readiness to quit smoking. Best wishes, Leslie in Portland, Oregon

  • joan Helfman November 3, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    You had a nanny?

  • Sandra K November 3, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    When I met my husband 37 years ago (he was 21, I was 20), he was a HEAVY smoker. He smoked 2 packs of unfiltered Camels a day. It didn’t bother me then, it was part of his rebellious image. He gave up cigarettes about a year after we met, and I’m so grateful, because I know I wouldn’t be able to stand it now. It’s possible to look forward to many years together still, because of his decision those many years ago. I hope your husband will try to quit, and some day succeed. Good luck to you both.

  • Tobysgirl November 3, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Two things. First, nicotine is more addictive than heroin, and I have a lot of sympathy for smokers (as long as smoke is not in my face). It is a very hard habit to kick, but after about 500 tries, my husband quit in the 1980s. Now he is a nurse and he is so grateful he quit because he sees the devastation that smoking causes.

    Second, some people have told me that quitting is easier if smokers stop smoking the brands with all the additives. See if you can get your sweetie to switch to cigarettes that have nothing but tobacco in them. If nothing else, he won’t be inhaling all those chemicals.

  • Diane Dettmann November 3, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Wow, Roz! I can definitely identify with the smoking thing. Both my parents smoked. Growing up around daily “Lucky Strikes” smoldering in the ashtray on the kitchen table, I naturally fell into the habit. Trying to be cool, I started smoking in high school. How could I help it with both my folks enjoying their daily puffing and the cigarette advertisements flying across the black and white television screen? I figured it was the grown up thing to do. Luckily, I quit in 1972, shortly after I married. Hoping to get pregnant, I wanted a healthy baby. Unfortunately, no baby appeared—that’s another whole story.

    After years of smoking, both my parents eventually ended up with lung conditions related to the nasty habit. My father quit his “Lucky Strike” habit in his mid-sixties. I think watching my mother struggle with her devastating chronic lung disease motivated him to finally snuff out his last cigarette. Of course the “NO SMOKING OXYGEN IN USE” posted on the front door probably provided a daily reminder too. My mother continued to smoke until she died at sixty-seven, way too young, making me wonder why they called those cigarettes “lucky”. My loving father passed away the following year from lung cancer and a broken heart.

    Keep nagging your husband. Unlike a glass of our favorite Merlot, no matter what way you look at smoking, there are no “health benefits”. Hopefully, the frigid temperatures or some life changing experience will motivate your husband to bury the habit for good! By the way, I enjoy reading your stories and your writing style. Keep them coming!