A Doctor's 18-Year Struggle to Quit Smoking

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Dr. Phillip Gardiner, a researcher with the University of California's Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, describes his 18-year ordeal to quit smoking, and his efforts to stamp out smoking in African-American communities.

ED GORDON, host:

Dr. Gadson is just one of many physicians working hard to help African Americans stop smoking. You can add to that list, Dr. Phillip Gardiner, a researcher with the University of California's Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program. He's long studied the effects of smoking and often presents his research to churches and support groups. He believes the epidemic of smoking related deaths among African Americans isn't just a health crisis, it's a civil rights crisis.

Dr. PHILLIP GARDINER (Researcher, University of California's Tobacco-Related Research Program): I guess a little sign in our office, in the Tobacco-Related Disease office, has, They brought us over here to pick it. Now they've gotten us to smoke it. Part of what I try and get across to people is that the use of tobacco products by African Americans is furthering their oppression here in the United States, and that if we can get off of this, it puts us in a much healthier position to take up struggles, whether it is for greater affirmative action, or equal rights, or even getting a job.

GORDON: Dr. Gardiner was a smoker for 18 years. Like most former smokers, quitting wasn't easy, but just how many times did he have to try before that last cigarette?

Dr. GARDINER: Often.

GORDON: Here's Dr. Gardiner in his own words.

Dr. GARDINER: The story that I like to tell people, and I do talk to a lot of groups about smoking, but I used to work at San Francisco General Hospital, and at break, you know, I would go outside and smoke a cigarette, and I noticed that there were a number of us sitting outside, mainly the poorer and the darker of the employees there, smoking. But I guess what really got to me is after a year or so sitting out there, ambulance would be coming by, and drive up into the hospital, and after awhile, you know, it kind of, it kind of came clear that that's going to be your outcome if you don't do something about this.

The day I quit was May 7th, 1987. My wife had quit on her birthday the month before in April, and I was determined this time, one of my many times quitting, that I would quit and that I knew for me I needed to get out of my existing surroundings or routines or going to work or going to meetings, and we decided to go to Tahoe.

The next morning, I think was truly the most difficult test for me because I was, I had thrown the cigarettes away, I was clear, we're going to go drive around Lake Tahoe and just enjoy ourselves, so I go put on my, I had on my heavy jacket because we were out at night, and I put on the lighter jacket to go for the drive, and there in that jacket was another pack of cigarettes that I wasn't aware of. And I went, I must admit, I was in quite a bit of turmoil, but I convinced myself. I threw it away, and we got in the car and went for the drive.

The other defining moment in the immediate period after quitting was the day we got back a week later, and I went into our bathroom at the house, and it seemed like the bathroom was alive, no other way to put it. When you have been smoking, a lot of your senses are dulled for years, and here I was, I hadn't smoked a cigarette in seven days, something I hadn't accomplished in ten or 15 years, and I could hear, smell, feel, see, and I remember that day very well. I wanted it to stay like that. I haven't wanted a cigarette since.

GORDON: In his own words, that was Dr. Philip Gardiner, a researcher with the University of California's Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program and a former smoker.

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