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Guest Blog: From Smoking as a Minor to Supporting my Community in their Quit Journeys

Eleven years old is way too young to walk into a store and be able to buy a pack of cigarettes.  That’s how old I was when I experimented with my first cigarette.

I was a shy but very curious and smart little kid and no one in my family smoked.  I desperately wanted to fit in with the “cool” crowd.  I, at that time, considered you to be cool if you were older than me and blew circles with your cigarette smoke among other things.  This was also the beginning of a long history of smoking.

My smoking didn’t become an everyday thing however until I was about 16 or 17 years old.  My cig of choice was menthol, after trying all kinds of brands.

I remember that smoking was everywhere, at all the parties I went to, in school, adult gatherings, airplanes, etc.  And the label “warning” wasn’t something that was discussed much let alone looked at.

Towards the end of my smoking addiction, I hated it.  I hated the smell.  I hated the fact that every morning I woke up the first thing I reached for was a cigarette.  I hated that the only friends I had or wanted close to me were other people who smoked.

I knew I needed to quit but never really considered it until one day in 1989 after taking a medication I was on; I threw up and couldn’t stop.  I looked down and saw the medication I had just taken lying in the sink and realized that even though I was taking this medication I wasn’t getting any better, in fact I was getting worse because that medication wasn’t working like it should due to my smoking.

October 31, 1989, almost 34 years ago, I stopped for good and have never picked up a cigarette since. 

I didn’t go cold turkey because I knew I would need some type of assistance and the only thing I knew about was the awful tasting gum.  At that time there were no flavors like cherry or mint just a tobacco tasting hard piece of gum. It worked for me, so I won’t complain.

Once I quit, food tasted better, the smell of tobacco went away, I smiled more and yes, my medications began to work like they should. 

It’s been over 33 years since I last smoked and now I have dedicated my life to helping others quit….when they are ready.  I feel it’s important to share with others the methods and comments the tobacco industry executives have used over the years to target specific populations such as the African American and youth communities.

Success in quitting smoking begins with each and every one of us helping the next person.

If you live in D.C. and are ready to discuss quitting, let’s talk.


Charles Debnam, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Community Wellness Alliance, and Chair of the D.C. Tobacco-Free Coalition