For as long as I live, I will never forget the day I tried to smoke a cigarette.  To this day, I laugh about it when I share with friends, business associates and colleagues, who wish they never started.  I thank God there was another decision being made on my behalf.  I was a sophomore in high school when I decided I was going to give it a try.

I was especially interested in smoking because of my aunt who I wanted to be just like; she was a smoker.  She was one of the most beautiful women I knew.  Men would stare and women would whisper when she walked into a room. The way she would hold a cigarette between her fingers and slowly pull in the smoke and then gently blow, slowly out.  I would stare at her beautiful, glitzy rings, bright red long fingernails and the bedazzled case she would place her cigarette box. Everything about it I thought was fancy and sophisticated.  She was admired by all in her presence. I was hooked; it was the “it thing”, everyone around me was doing it, I wanted to be a smoker!

Once I got to high school, it looked and seemed like the “thing” to do.  All the cool kids, popular kids and athletes (for them, maybe not as often) smoked. It was definitely the thing to do!  You see, I was a fairly popular kid myself- I played on the girls’ basketball team, was a member of the varsity cheerleading team and elected to the homecoming court. Now, not that I was a follower or anything like that, smoking was something I was definitely attracted to doing. As I took notice to people that were smoking, I was intrigued by how relaxed they were, conversations seemed to flow and for some reason the laughter seemed much louder. I also noticed smoking seemingly allowed people a sense of freedom to be universal; it provided a sense of commonality that encouraged friendship. Have you ever seen anyone ask a complete stranger for a cigarette?

Of course, you have! Their response “Sure, no problem here you go”, or this is my last, feel free to take a puff (the young folks say… I’ll short you, (the start of a new friendship). After all, smokers hang together and smoke together. To this day, I forget some of my friends are smokers until I see them leave a room and I ask, where are you going?  Truthfully, I didn’t need any new friends- I was already popular, plus my friends were all smokers and offered me the opportunity. I was just afraid. I always thought I would choke to death, no pun intended, no hashtags, LOL!

Homecoming Week. It was all set; the day was planned. I was geeked! I had already practiced in the mirror how I should look while doing it, how to pull on it while it was being lit and the pucker of my fuchsia-stained lips. I was ready. Everyone lighting up, my turn…… gently pull… all wrong, waaaay toooooo much!  I thought I was going to choke to death. When I tell you, I could not catch my breath and stop coughing and choking… Tears began to roll down my eyes.  All I remember was everyone around me laughing hysterically. It was the most humiliating experience of my life. It deterred me from ever trying again and thinking nothing about watching people do it in my teens, twenties, thirties and more.

I feel so blessed that experience changed my mind and outlook about smoking being a part of my lifestyle.  To this day, I’ve lost loved ones to smoking and I have friends my age that can’t do nearly half of the physical things I can do; their health has been impacted by being a smoker. I only wish that I impressed upon my own son about the risks and harm that cigarette smoking would bring on his life; the cost, the anxiety, the addiction…  And now the evolution of e-cigarettes, which have been the most commonly used tobacco product amongst youth since 2014.

In essence, youth e-cigarette use in the United States has skyrocketed to what the U.S. Surgeon General and the FDA have called “epidemic” levels, with 5.3 million middle and high school students. About 4 years ago, I literally bought a very expensive e-cigarette for my own son! If I only knew years ago as a young girl and now as a mom, I would have never tried, nor allowed my young adult son the experience to puff in my presence and absolutely not supported the ill health of my one and only! If I only knew then, what I know now, I would have never wasted my time trying and never been so passive about my son smoking. Now is NEVER too late to let the truth be told.

Dori Collins

Written by Dori Collins

Dori Collins earned her degree from Tennessee State University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology, which impressed upon her the importance of multi-disciplinary approaches to learning. Her later experiences with Chicago Public Schools and Head Start programs heightened her sensitivity to the rights of parents with Diverse Learners.