DEAR ABBY: My wife is the most unselfish person I know. She'll do anything except for one thing. She loves her children and does everything they ask -- except for what they want most. My wife adores our grandchildren and will indulge them with anything they ask -- except for what they harass her about most often. She refuses to quit smoking.
Her love for her family is exceeded only by her addiction to nicotine. Cigarettes are her first thought in the morning, and they receive her last caress at night. She has emphysema, breathes heavily and coughs constantly. We haven't shared a bed in years because her coughing keeps me awake. She sleeps on the living room couch to elevate her head and facilitate her breathing.
Cough drops and other non-prescription drugs temporarily relieve a variety of ailments, so she ingests them daily along with prescription medications. She has undergone angioplasty to clear a clogged artery and was advised by her surgeon to stop smoking. Unfortunately, her addiction is more powerful than her desire to live.
I also have lung disease from 40 years of smoking cigarettes, pipes and cigars. Five times I quit for more than a year. Twice I quit cold turkey without help. Twice I had acupuncture. I quit the last time three years ago during a "smoke stoppers" class at the hospital. I know smoking is a difficult habit to break. And I suspect it's more difficult for people who are genetically prone to addictions. (My wife is a recovering alcoholic.)
She has tried to quit smoking. She's had acupuncture twice and she also attended the "smoke stoppers" course. She has worn nicotine patches and has chewed nicotine-based gum. But she has never gone more than a day or two without a cigarette. (She confessed that she lit up while driving home from one of the $100 acupuncture treatments.) In deference to her family, she doesn't smoke in the house. In wind, rain and cold temperatures, she goes outside to light up. And this further aggravates her respiratory problems.
I'm angry. I'm angry with my wife. I'm angry with myself for being her co-dependent. I'm angry at cigarette companies for enticing us to take up this insidious habit. And I'm angry with the government for not exercising more control over a drug that kills 500,000 Americans every year.
My wife was born of sturdy Norwegian ancestry on a farm in Minnesota, and for years her body stubbornly resisted the hourly doses of nicotine. But little by little, her body is losing the battle. She needs help. I need help. -- THE MAN WHO LOVES HER
DEAR MAN: Your wife may be beyond the help you seek, but perhaps it will comfort you to know that your powerful letter may convince another person to stop smoking. And tomorrow will provide the perfect opportunity:
READERS, tomorrow, Nov. 20, marks the 21st Annual Great American Smokeout. The Smokeout is a one-day campaign to encourage smokers to quit smoking for 24 hours -- to prove that they can do it. Last year, more than 11,960,000 quit for the day -- a giant step in the right direction.
My readers tell me that while "cold turkey" is the most difficult, it's also the most effective way to kick the habit. Those who need help or want more information about the effects of tobacco may call the local chapter of the American Cancer Society or 1-800-ACS-2345.
So, Dear Readers, if you're hooked on tobacco and have been saying, "One of these days, I'm going to quit," why not join the Great American Smokeout and quit tomorrow? It won't be easy, but it will be the best Thanksgiving gift you can give yourself and those who love you.