Smoking is the roulette of health gambles. Watching the wheel spin, the marble ball bounce over red, then black until finally stopping on the final number, you never know what you are going to get. You could smoke for a lifetime and escape lung and heart disease. You could be the casual smoker with a fist-sized tumor in your chest. You could be the 2 packs-a-day smoker who finds out she has lung cancer right after the birth of her first grandchild and dies three months later. For 55 year old Greg Goin, it wasn’t worth spinning the wheel and taking the chance anymore.
Born into a family of smokers, Goin says he was taught by example that smoking was cool and made you look tough. It didn’t take long for him to try lighting up. “I started trying to smoke at about 9, coughing all the way,” he remembers. “By the time I was about 14, I had it down and was sneaking about 3 or 4 smokes a day.”
By the age of 16, Goin was able to buy packs of cigarettes on his own, which led to a pack-a-day smoking habit. “By 20 I was a 2 pack a day smoker and stayed that way until the day I quit,” admits Goin.
At this point, Goin’s smoking habit became the center of his focus, motivation and reason for nearly every decision. “I based my life around it, extra trips to the truck for tools so I could have a smoke, bowled last so I could go outside and have a smoke between games,” he says. “I only went to friends’ houses that allowed smoking in them, all that kind of stuff.”
The benefit of smoking, Goin kept telling himself, was that it helped calm him down. He didn’t see any ill effects of the addiction that chained him to certain activities and people. Outside of bronchitis twice a year, the gamble appeared to be paying off.
Every November, the American Cancer Society hosts The Great American Smokeout to encourage smokers to plan to quit on this day. Although Goin was keenly aware of this day, not once did he make a plan to quit. “I never tried because I didn't want to fail,” he admits. “There were times I thought about quitting, but never tried.”
It wasn’t until December of 1996 when a possible motivator entered the picture. “I heard they were raising the tax on a carton another $5.00 on the first of the year, bringing the price of a carton to about $15.00,” he says. “I told my dad that was it, I'm not paying that, I'm going to quit.”
What happened next even surprised Goin. “At this point my father blew me away; he said he'd quit with me.”
Armed with a reason and a partner, Goin and his father enrolled in a four week smoking cessation program. The quit date was a few months away in February. They decided to stock up on cartons of cigarettes before the price went up to get them through to the quit date.
“On February 8, 1997, some 32 years after that 9 year old kid first hacked on a cigarette, and 56 years after my father started smoking, my father and I both quit smoking,” he says proudly.
Goin says the reason he quit and stuck with it was his father. Being accountable to him, knowing his father was going through the same temptations, desires and justifications to light up again, kept Goin smoke-free in those initial weeks and months.
“No matter what else I had to do not to have a smoke, I did it,” he says. “It was OK, as long as I didn't smoke. I ate sunflower seeds, chewed gum, went for walks, cleaned the house, cleaned the yard, and ate candy. Whatever, as long as I didn't smoke.”
Goin’s father lived to 88 with no heart or lung problems. His mother smoked until she was 65, the year she had double bypass surgery. Until her death at 82 she lived with the constant pain of angina. Goin’s brother only smoked when he was at a bar. At the age of 53 his brother had a fist-sized tumor removed from his lower chest. Today he is undergoing radiation to treat the cancer that remains. Goin’s sister was there for the birth of her first grandchild at the age of 51, but gone three months later from cancer. She smoked two packs a day.
“Fifteen years later, there is no way I would ever smoke again,” Goin says. “I see now that cigarettes never did anything for me but made me smell.”