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.
Amanda started smoking in fifth grade, and by age 13, she smoked every day. Over time, smoking crept into every corner of her life. She was so addicted that she ducked outside to smoke throughout the day, even during Wisconsin's bitter cold winters.
While in college, newly engaged—and still smoking a pack a day—Amanda learned she was pregnant. She tried to quit, but juggling work and classes was stressful. She thought cigarettes helped deal with stress. She soon learned that smoking only made things worse. Her baby was born 2 months early, which is a danger for all pregnant women who smoke. The tiny baby girl spent weeks in a hospital incubator. "I knew that smoking was bad... I didn't think I would have a premature baby," said Amanda. "I couldn't hold her much in those first weeks. It's time I'll never get back. Smoking took that from me."
Brian was in good health, working and managing his infection with HIV—the virus that can cause AIDS—when smoking led to health problems that nearly killed him. Smoking is especially dangerous for people who are living with HIV. For Brian, smoking and having HIV led to clogged blood vessels. At age 43, he had a blood clot in his lungs, a stroke, and surgery on an artery in his neck.
Brian had already beat tough health problems—including being very sick with AIDS—but he had not quit smoking. "It took a stroke for me to actually stop smoking," said Brian. For months after the stroke, Brian had trouble speaking and reading. He couldn't work or even dress himself. Today, his right hand is still weak, so he can no longer work as a waiter or teach pottery classes. Brian hopes his story will inspire other people to quit smoking before it's too late. "Smoking is something that you do have control over. You can stop. And it's worth your life to stop smoking."
With every bite she eats, Felicita remembers how smoking hurt her health. She developed gum disease—a danger for all smokers—and lost all her teeth by age 50. In one surgery, 23 teeth were removed. "It was very, very hard," says Felicita, who lives in Florida. It took a month for her mouth to heal. She doesn't like the way her dentures fit, so she uses only the top set. This means she can only eat soft foods now.
Felicita grew up in New York and started smoking at age 12. She smoked for 33 years but didn't realize that cigarettes added to her dental problems. In her 30s and 40s, she already had bleeding gums and loose teeth. By the time Felicita quit smoking, it was too late to save her teeth.
Today, Felicita loves being a nonsmoker. She can now keep up with her four children on walks: "I feel like I came back to life!" But Felicita doesn’t smile much anymore. She's embarrassed to have false teeth. "I feel like I destroyed my health and my appearance with cigarettes."
Rose developed lung cancer from smoking cigarettes. She's had chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and a surprisingly painful tube in her chest. Doctors were able to remove the part of Rose's lung with cancer, but problems kept her in the hospital for a month with a chest tube. "The whole time it was in there, it was painful," she said. "The last 3 or 4 days, I literally cried." Finally, the chest tube came out—with a sharp, jabbing pain.
The cause of Rose's cancer—cigarettes—goes back to her childhood. Rose started smoking at age 13 and continued for many years, smoking two packs a day. The addiction nearly caused her to lose a foot because of clogged blood vessels—and then caused lung cancer when she was 58 years old. "I regret picking up smoking in the first place," said Rose. "It’s just addictive." Rose needed a second surgery after cancer spread to her brain. Today, she tries to spend as much time as possible with her friends and family—especially her three grandchildren, who mean the world to her.
Brett lives in New Mexico and started smoking at age 16 to impress a girl. He kept it up for 30 years, smoking about a pack a day. By his midthirties, Brett had gum disease—a danger for all smokers. Because of his gum disease, the tissues and bones holding Brett's teeth in place were breaking down. During each visit, his dentist asked, "Are you still smoking?"
By age 42, Brett had lost most of his teeth, including 16 during one surgery. With his mouth still swollen, Brett continued to smoke. "There I would be, standing outside having a cigarette," he said. "I was still completely addicted and in denial."
Brett has now been smokefree for 4 years. "Life is so much better without smoking," he says. "You're not constantly thinking about your next cigarette."