Swift | Silent | Deadly

Some Thoughts on Quitting Tobacco

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I quit using tobacco on 23 November, 2019. My last dose of nicotine via the patch was on January 5, 2020. I was a daily user of Copenhagen Snuff for over 20 years and finally, somehow, got the gumption to give it up.  This article will tell you why you should quit, talk about the process of quitting (and it is a process), and list some things that might help.

I promise this is the last post in my 2020/2021 end-of-year review articles that focus mostly on me. Hopefully it can help one or two of you.

Why be a Quitter?

I’m sure you all know this: there are huge, massive, life-altering benefits to using – and quitting – tobacco. Since I very much enjoy preparedness, I like to look at the benefits of quitting as they relate to preparedness. If you are a prepper, survivalist – whatever – who uses tobacco, you need to read this part. Here’s a few of the benefits of quitting.

Financial Cost

I spent a massive amount of money on tobacco. Let’s do the math together. I dipped Copenhagen for, let’s say, 24 years. When I started, tobacco cost around $3/can, and it now costs closer to (over?) $6/can. I think we can safely average this at $4/can. Also keep in mind, I’ve spent several years living in states where tobacco cost as much as $8 or $10 per can, so I think $4 is a somewhat conservative estimate. I managed to come up with that money no matter how broke I was – I could always find the money for a can of Cope. Every day, no days off.

At one can a day – an amount I easily consumed – for 24 years, we’re at 8,760 cans of dip (put another way, at 1.2 ounces per can that’s 657 pounds of tobacco). Multiplied by $4 per can that comes out to $39,420. THIRTY-NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS! That’s insane, and it’s probably a low estimate. It bugs me that I put $39,000 into the bank account of the U.S. Tobacco Company.

Let’s put that in perspective. I own a Nighthawk Custom 1911 that cost around $3,600. Some – and some of you reading this – view that pistol as the pinnacle of excess. I’ve been told in no uncertain terms what a ridiculous purchase that was when so many more affordable options are available. I’ve been told how many Glocks I could have purchased, and how stupid it is to carry a custom gun for self-defense. No one outside of my doctor and dentist have bothered to chastise me for my tobacco habit, though. Why not?

My $4.50/day tobacco habit (and some of your tobacco habits if we’re being honest with each other) would have purchased TEN of those Nighthawks in 25 years. Put another way, a can-a-day habit at $4.50 a can (or pack for you cigarette smokers) would pay for my Nighthawk Custom every two and a half years! Think about that for a second. Now let’s think just a bit more realistically.

I have always desired and worked very hard to be an outstanding shooter. That money could have made me a much, much better shooter. It could have purchased three of these handguns ($10,080), 100 Wilson Combat magazines ($4,200), 50,000 rounds of 9mm ammo (at pre-COVID prices, $169/case x 50 = $8,450), some very nice holsters and mag pouches, and still leave around $15,000 for travel and training expenses. It could have done that, but instead I chose to put poison in my mouth every day.

There were also a lot of indirect costs I won’t attempt to quantify: running out to the store (with the dedication of an addict: in the rain, at 9:30 PM, or when I’m already running late) to get a can of dip, time spent pulling of the interstate to grab a can, cleaning up spilled spit bottles, etc. I have no doubt that time adds up to hours of my life in pursuit of something that does no good at all for me, other than provide some very mild enjoyment that was honestly so commonplace to me as to be thoughtless most of the time.

Health & Dental Cost

Fortunately for me, I don’t have any terrible health conditions. Yet. But smokeless tobacco can cause cancers of the mouth, esophagus, and pancreas. Care of even “mild” forms of cancer require extensive time and supplies. If you’re interested in preparing, preparedness step number one is ensuring your body doesn’t need a bunch of external support to keep going.

Personal anecdote: I spent a good deal of time during my respiratory clinical helping a fellow who had throat cancer. He was in his early 50s. He was confined to bed, had a Foley catheter in his penis and a bowel management system gently suctioning shit from his rectum. He had a tracheastomy that I had to suction every couple of hours and he couldn’t speak to us or do anything for himself. Sure, you could be hit by a car tomorrow. You could also be this guy in ten years.

Tobacco also causes all sorts of potential dental problems. Moist snuff is loaded with salt and sugar. Having that stuff sit in more-or-less direct contact with your teeth for hours a day is “bad, mmmkay?” Tobacco gave me leukoplakia that has finally – almost a year later – healed itself. If you’re a dipper you know that’s gross white patches inside your mouth that flake off big, slimy sheets of skin every morning. If you have them you’re probably trying – like I did – to ignore them, but it’s a problem you should take care of now.

And then there’s the cost of healthcare. If you’re paying for health and life insurance out-of-pocket it’s massively higher if you’re a tobacco user. Why? Frankly it’s because you’re more likely to have health problems. My healthcare is covered courtesy of Uncle Sam, so I shouldn’t worry about the cost, right? As a good steward of that benefit I should probably be making some effort to keep myself in decent health – you know, that whole “personal responsibility” thing that my conservative friends like to point out to me.

Quitting: My Experience

Quitting tobacco (this time) was a very multi-phased process. I came back from a work trip last summer and it so happened that I was out of Copenhagen when I got home. I didn’t want to run back out, and I had a can of Camel Snus. The Snus comes in little, discrete pouches making it great for dipping when I couldn’t dip – like when teaching, traveling on an airplane, hell – even on a date.

I decided to just stick with the Snus for a while and see how long I could hold off on getting a can of Copenhagen. If you dip Cope, you’ll know what I’m talking about here. The inside of my lip was a mess, I wanted to give it up…but snuff is a tempting mistress. I managed to hold out for a week or so, though. I thought I was just taking a little”break” from the ‘Hagen to let my lip heal a bit. Some way, somehow, with some effort, I stuck exclusively with the Snus for five months.

Finally, I decided to ditch the Snus, too. I’ve been around this block a few times. I’ve “quit” at least half a dozen times, sometimes as long as six months. This time I wanted to do everything possible set myself up for success. Rather than go cold turkey and try to gut it out, I took the coward’s way out and used nicotine patches. To be honest, the pouches were a tremendous help. There weren’t a lot of days spent sitting around wishing I had a dip. The slow, steady uptake of nicotine really blunted the urge.

I did occasionally find myself reaching for my pocket. More often, I found myself standing around after dinner with this odd feeling that something was missing. It usually took me a few minutes to realize it was my can of dip that was calling out to me. After 24 (of a planned 28) days on the Step 3/7mg patches (on January 5, 2020, a year and two days ago) I finally went nicotine free, about a month and a half after being tobacco free.

I went nicotine-free sort of on accident. I had a class on Sunday morning, walked out the door, and forgot to put a patch on. I only had four left, so I said “screw it, I’ll skip it today.” As the day wore on it began to suck. I realized this wasn’t a day I wanted to repeat, so I decided then and there to quit the patch. I had no idea what I was in for.

What to Expect

When giving up nicotine your mileage may vary here. We’re all different. However, if it were easy probably all of us would have quit at some point. I literally thought it was a gentle step, step, step from the 21 mg patch to the 14 mg patch, to the 7 mg, then a gentle step off. Boy was I wrong. If you’re thinking about quitting, you should know that at the end of that cycle of patches you’re in for a few difficult days.

It’s kind of embarrassing to admit how difficult this was. It’s very embarassing to admit how it impacted my mind. But here it is. Here is what the first five days without nicotine were like. Keep in mind this was after stepping down to a 7mg of nicotine a day, or about 1/10th of what my body was originally used to. If you’re coming straight off the stuff, I guarantee you it’s 100x worse (I’ve been there, too).

Day 1: I was in a technical rescue class all day and welcomed the distraction of taking notes. I probably wasn’t the most focused student, had a mild headache, and got more annoyed than usual at sidebar conversations and the instructor not restarting class promptly after breaks. I got home and was bone tired which was probably at least in part due to being in class. I crashed hard, but woke up wide awake around 11 PM. I had a very hard time getting back to sleep. When I did get back to sleep several hours later it was totally restless and I got up exhausted the next morning.

Day 2: I was kind of a pain the ass to deal with. I was irritable and weirdly “down.” I was easily discouraged by anything that got in my way, but at the same time couldn’t put my finger on any particular thing. I also couldn’t concentrate on anything. I sat down to work on writing or really anything…and would end up just screwing around. An hour later I would look at the clock and realize I had just wasted an hour. Lather, rinse, repeat. My girlfriend didn’t like me much on this day. I didn’t like myself very much on this day. Again, I had a very hard time sleeping, waking up probably every hour through the night.

Day 3: This was probably the worst day. Not only was I off the nicotine, but at this point was also dealing with it with an appreciable sleep deficit. I was down again, only much worse. I hesitate to call it “depression” but it sure didn’t feel good. My outlook on everything was shitty. I was a total jerk to my girlfriend. I became irrationally angry about the littlest things, like the fact that we ran out of milk. Like, on the verge of screaming at the walls angry.  My girlfriend really didn’t like me on this day. Weirdly, from my perspective it was like I was watching it all happen but with very little power to do anything about it.

Day 4: Day four finally saw some modest improvement. By this point my girlfriend had had enough of my mood swings, anger, irritability, and glumness. We had a hell of a rough morning, she told me to get my shit together which – naturally – made me angry. We yelled at each other for a while, but eventually we rallied (read: I got my shit together) and we actually ended up having a pretty good day. We took a big drive that afternoon to a town an hour or so away, and generally just had a chill day.

Things trailed off pretty rapidly after that initial shitty hump.

One thing I will reiterate, though: this was after very smoothly tapering my nicotine consumption. I had dropped the Cope for Snus, then used the nicotine patch to drop down slowly. This whole thing would have been a real ordeal if I had been abruptly forced to quit my peak daily dosage of nicotine. This is really something you preparedness-minded folks should consider.

I’ll be honest about something else, too: a year later there probably hasn’t been a single day go by that I haven’t thought about tobacco at least a little bit. There have been a few days where I have seriously contemplated going to get a can. Some part of my brain occasionally kicks in and tries to talk me into it. It’s the weirdest thing. So far so good, but I’m not cocky about it in the least – I could pick it back up tomorrow. Some nights I have nightmares that I have dipped again, too.

I’m telling you this because I want you to understand that quitting is no picnic. It is a struggle, even after strategically planning to quit. It is not something you want to deal with, unplanned, in the middle of an emergency. But don’t take my word for it. Take two or three days off from dipping or smoking and see for yourself.

How is This Relevant?

I can hear some of you asking, “how is this relevant to what I normally come to this blog to read?” It’s relevant in a couple of ways. Being a tobacco user undermines your security and preparedness efforts in several ways. It does so by diverting large amounts of money to something that, truly, does you no good whatsoever and actually does harm.

Tobacco harms your health, it’s terrible for your dental health, and ultimately, it’s a dependency. It’s something you have to have (again – feel free to prove me wrong). Quitting requires tremendous discipline, but it also builds amazing discipline.

Maybe most importantly, you don’t want to go into the “boogaloo” or the SHTF or whatever with an addiction. That creates all kinds of problems. If you decide to quit then, I can promise you you’re in for some rough days. Your concentration, energy levels, and emotional stability will all be impacted for a week or more. Remember – I had it comparatively easy because I stepped down on the patch for eight weeks, and that transition was still rough. In the boogaloo you probably won’t have it so easy. If you’re dealing with uncertainty on various fronts, you probably don’t want to be doing so while withdrawing from nicotine.

You don’t want to have something in your life with the power to alter your mental state if it’s taken away. You don’t want something in your life that will force you to take unnecessary risks to obtain and trust me, you’ll try to obtain it. I see the impact of addiction on nearly every shift at work. Trust me – addicts do stupid things. We don’t do stupid things for tobacco because it’s easily available. Take that away, though…

Some Tips for Success

Here are a few tips for success. Nothing is going to be the silver bullet, but these might help some.

Nicotine patches were a life-saver for me. Maybe literally – I’m not sure I could have quit without them. Hell, even with them it was difficult. A couple people told me to quit “like a real man,” i.e. without such aids. Fourteen months later both of them still use tobacco, so…

Importantly, find a replacement. You’ve been reaching for that can of dip, pouch of chew, or pack of smokes twenty times a day for years. It’s given you something to do and it’s been a constant in your life. Find something to fill that void a little bit. For me that replacement was canned seltzer water. Silly as it sounds, when I found myself looking for “something to do,” I grabbed a can of fizzy water. La Croix, Polar Spring, store-brand…whatever. Seltzer water was a nice replacement, and probably the healthiest thing I could have picked up. It also helped me stay hydrated.

Stay hydrated. Staying hydrated will help you get through tobacco withdrawals. Nicotine is a mild laxative. After years of having it your body will be a bit more reticent to let go of your stools. Staying well hydrated will help. And again, water – even a reusable bottle of water – can help replace the void tobacco leaves behind.

Try tobacco-free dip products. There are all sorts of tobacco-free and nicotine-free dips out there to fill that physical void. I have tried many of them over the years. I tried Fully Loaded products (no affiliation) recently and liked it. It’s not Copenhagen Snuff (what is, right?), but it’s not a terrible substitute, either. I didn’t use much of it, but it was nice to have a can on hand for that occasional desire to pack a dip in my mouth.

Wellbutrin is a very mild anti-depressant medication. I didn’t take it this go round, but I did use it on a previous attempt at quitting (that lasted about six months). I will say it definitely made that transition period from full-on tobacco-user to tobacco-free much easier.

Stay out of gas stations. I don’t know where you buy your dip, but I bought mine at gas stations nine out of ten times. Now I pay at the pump and avoid going inside unless I have no choice. Not that there is a huge temptation at this point, but seeing that big rack of dip behind the register sometimes ignites the desire. In your early days this will be more important.

Closing Thoughts

I might sound like I’m on a high horse or preaching at you here. I’m absolutely not. I know exactly how hard quitting is and, embarrassingly, spent over 20 years trying to quit. It’s the hardest fucking thing I’ve ever done – by a long shot. I’m not mad at you if you can’t quit. But if you can (and some of you can) you should consider it.

To those of us who aren’t independently wealthy (and I include myself in “us” because I need the motivation, too) your money can go to much worthier endeavors. The money spent on a quarter-century of tobacco use could fund any number of awesome endeavors. Used well it could pay for a year or two of sabbatical. It could pay for travel nearly anywhere in the world, fund a badass off-roading rig build, or pay for a dozen or more pistol and carbine courses, as well as the guns and ammo to shoot in them. It could turn you from zero into a full-blown skydiver/BASE jumper, buy some acres in a remote location… I’m sure you can come up with a way to spend an extra $30 or 40,000.

Even if you are independently wealthy, you can’t buy health. Tobacco will rob you of your health and teeth. Sure, if you’re wealthy (sidebar: if you’re wealthy and enjoy this blog enough to read this far down, let’s talk) you can buy better healthcare, but cancer can bankrupt even multimillionaires.

Again, this isn’t a lecture or a sermon. I hope it comes across as motivation to at least one of you out there. If you need an encouraging word, hit me up on the contact form. I will respond to you as soon as I can. I am more than happy to be a resource for any of you going through the process of quitting.

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