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SMOKING KILLS - NO IFS - NO BUTTS ARE YOU DYING FOR A CIGARETTE? I am . . . If you are a smoker, chances are, it will happen to you. I smoked for 28 years. I wanted to “fit in” with my friends. I didn’t drink or smoke, as my friends did. I loathed the very idea of both, but feeling unaccepted amongst my peers, being accepted was far more important. So, I tried my first cigarette. I hated it. It took me over a year of persevering and putting up with the pain, smell and taste of nicotine to perfect the art, and started feeling “pretty cool.” I shall never forget that memorable day when I took my first painful, drag. I was just 15 years old. When I reached the age of 35, I sought medical advice to alleviate my chronic, hacking cough. I was told I had the beginnings of Emphysema and that if I didn’t stop smoking immediately, I would develop this incurable, deteriorative disease called Emphysema, and be dead before I reached my 40th birthday. So terrified at hearing this news, the first thing I did was reach for a cigarette, and began to smoke even more heavily. Only a smoker would understand this seemingly bizarre reaction . . . that’s because smoking is not simply a habit, as so many people call it. It is an addiction; a deadly addiction. I did manage to reach 40 and as the doctor had predicted, I was diagnosed with Emphysema. Quitting smoking was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my entire life. I tried and failed many, many times, even though my breathing was laboured; I could not walk more than a few steps without gasping for air. I puffed and panted my way through what I saw as having been given an instant death sentence. I felt my world was crumbling down and that my life was over. Being unable to quit “cold turkey,” I tried chewing Nicorette Gum, (the only product on the market at that time, to help smokers quit). It helped me enormously, and if not for that Nicorette, I doubt I would have been able to quit, which I finally did, before I reached 41. I have now been an ex-smoker for 17 years and four months. I had stopped smoking. The cigarettes were gone, but the Emphysema remained. I am now 57 years of age and suffering severe, advanced and irreversible Emphysema, or COPD, (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), as it is called today. This disease is a direct result of my addiction to smoking cigarettes. I used to be a dancer, and a good one. Now, I cannot dance at all. I can’t walk far without stopping and starting. When the weather is too hot, too cold or too windy, I cannot go out at all. This COPD does not just affect one’s body; with the loss of mobility, my confidence plummeted I felt the pain of the isolation it brings, the depression, alienation, and all else that goes with a deteriorative, incurable disease. It doesn’t sound very pretty. It is not meant to sound pretty. Cigarettes were my best friends. I was well and truly hooked by my late teens. When I was sad, my cigarettes consoled me. When I was happy, I would celebrate with a cigarette. When I was feeling lonely, those cigarettes were always there for me. But cigarettes were not my best friends, and they are not yours. Best friends don’t kill you. They love you, support and nurture you; not drain your body and soul with every puff and leaving one with an incurable disease. Please, if you think this can’t happen to you, think again, because it can. I kidded myself for 28 years. “It won’t happen to me.” But it did happen to me, and I am now paying the ultimate price. Look after your body. Nurture and love yourself, and in turn, your body shall look after you. Sharon Perlman (AKA Ziggy Baitz)

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