The Tips From Former Smokers campaign features former smokers living with smoking-related diseases and disabilities. The hard-hitting ads show people living with the real and painful consequences of smoking. Many of them started smoking in their early teens, and some were diagnosed with life-changing diseases before age 40. Speaking from experience, they want to send a single, powerful message: Quit smoking now. Or better yet — don't start.
Bill, age 40, lives in Michigan and has diabetes. At 39, he quit smoking after his leg was amputated due to poor circulation—made worse from smoking.
Bill is angry with himself that he ever accepted that first cigarette. "When I was 15, I started smoking. It was a stupid thing I wish I could take back." Bill has diabetes. He learned the hard way that smoking makes diabetes harder to control. At 37, Bill went blind in his left eye from a detached retina—damage to the inner lining of the eye. He also had kidney failure. Two years later, he had his leg amputated due to poor circulation—made worse from smoking. "I lost my leg, and that's when I quit," he says.
His life is very different now. Married and the father of four children, he says he worries that he won't be able to provide for his family. "Smoking is a nasty addiction," he says. "It's not cool, and it doesn't do anybody any good. Don't ever start smoking."
Jamason, age 18, lives in Kentucky. When people smoke around him, the secondhand smoke can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks.
Jamason was diagnosed with asthma as an infant. He never really understood the dangers of secondhand smoke until it triggered a severe asthma attack. Jamason never smoked cigarettes. Even when friends tried to talk him into having one cigarette, he would reply, "It's just not cool to smoke."
Jamason's worst attack occurred when he was 16, at a fast food restaurant where he worked. He was sweeping close to some coworkers who were smoking, and he started having trouble breathing. He called his mother, frantic for help. She found him at work gasping for air. He was hospitalized for 4 days.
Terrie, age 52, lives in North Carolina and began smoking in high school. At 40, she was diagnosed with oral and throat cancers and had her larynx removed. She continues to battle cancer today.
In high school, Terrie was a pretty cheerleader who competed on the cheer circuit. Her father smoked, and with more and more of her friends smoking, Terrie soon found herself lighting up in social settings. Eventually she was smoking up to two packs a day.
In 2001, Terrie was diagnosed with oral cancer, and later that same year, with throat cancer. Doctors informed her that they would need to remove her larynx. It was then that she quit smoking for good. Today, Terrie speaks with the aid of an artificial voice box that was inserted in her throat. She continues to battle cancer.
Tiffany, age 35, lives in Louisiana. She started smoking at 19, even though her mother, a smoker, died of lung cancer when Tiffany was 16.
"Watching her suffer was awful," she says. "I felt alone and scared." But still, Tiffany started smoking in her late teens. "A lot of kids I went to school with were smoking, and I wanted to fit in," she remembers. Tiffany quit smoking in 2012, wanting to be around for her own teenage daughter.
As part of her plan to quit, Tiffany changed her morning ritual. Instead of getting up early to drink coffee and smoke, she enjoyed an extra hour of sleep. She reached out to family and friends for support. They sent cards of praise and called and reminded her of all the reasons to never smoke again. Her most enduring motivation has been her daughter. "I didn't want my daughter to think, 'Wow, my mother loves cigarette smoking more than she cares about me.'"
Michael, age 57, lives in Alaska. He has COPD—chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—which makes it harder and harder to breathe and can cause death.
"I was suffocating to death!" That's how Michael—a veteran, an Alaska Native, and member of the Tlingit tribe—thinks back to why he quit smoking. A smoker since he was 9, Michael was addicted to cigarettes for most of his adult life, including the 2 years he served in the U.S. Army. At 44, he was diagnosed with COPD, a condition also referred to as chronic bronchitis or emphysema. He ignored the symptoms until age 52, when he awoke gasping for air. He quit smoking that day.
Since then, Michael has had to have part of his lungs removed to improve his breathing. However, COPD does not go away, and Michael's doctor says he now needs a lung transplant. Michael desperately wants to be around for his grandchildren, but he feels he's running out of time.