Tobacco Use

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Cigar Smoking Husband & Gum Disease

June 2012

Dear BPN Community
I am at my wits end. My husband of 30 years has dreadful periodontal disease, has been cigarette-free for 5 years but is now smoking cigars. I asked his Periodontist if cigar smoking was harmful to the gums and he conceded that yes, definitely, any kind of smoke will compromise the gums. This information made little impression on my husband.

Meanwhile, each of my husband's 6 annual cleaning cost several hundred dollars (we have no dental insurance) and on-going surgical procedures are significantly more. I feel like we are just burning money.

Anytime I bring up the subject, he becomes almost violent, yelling, leaving the house, and denies that he is addicted, claiming its nothing like cigarette smoking. While he doesn't smoke in the house, the smell clings to his clothes, and if he doesn't shower immediately, he smells so dreadful it makes me feel physically ill. Occasionally he will smoke in the yard, and the smell gets in the house. What do I do? He seems so rational on other subjects, but this one can not be broached from any angle without hysteria and flat out refusal. Thanks in advance for your suggestions. Repulsed & Stumped by Cigars

I would say you need to get a new husband (I couldn't stand the cigar smell period). No really, maybe you need to withdraw on certain activities you share with him that he enjoys (sex), as you ''just can't get that close to the cigar smell''. You are more tolerant than myself. Kudos to you. I Hate cigars

My husband is a former smoker and also has gum disease. He has not smoked for 13 years. The gum disease isn't going away, your husband will likely continue to have many cleanings each year and occasional surgery. My husband has also lost teeth due to gum disease so you can look forward to the cost of implants. If your husband quits smoking he is not miraculously going to have healthy, inexpensive gums. Your posting doesn't seem to be about his health (gum disease is correlated to heart disease) but about the cost, smell, etc, In other words, it's about you. I would give him some space (stop nagging) and then ask him if he could be more attentive to where he smokes and to showering, etc, in other words address those issues that seem to be most important to you. Then progress on to reducing and quitting. But his dental bills are not going away as soon as he quits....or even 13 years later. IMHO, if he was only smoking one cigar and kept the smoke and smell under control, I'd back off. I did not nag my husband into quitting, he decided on his own to quit and figured out how he could do it. Give the man some space

Your poor husband! Poor you! Tobacco is a very complicated addiction. From my own experience as a former smoker and from my observations of my family's smoking life, I know that smoking is a powerful way to manage emotions (particularly anger), to organize time and help with executive functioning challenges, to improve productivity, to energize as well as tranquilize, and to medicate deep psychic wounds. It is also most definitely a way to lose all your teeth--apparently many periodontists will not even accept smokers as new patients--and all kinds of other nasty outcomes. But a long-term smoker's relationship with the drug is usually pretty soulful, even if the smoker can't put it into words. It's certainly beyond logic. It's like the bad boyfriend you keep being drawn to like a moth to a flame, only you keep him in your pocket.

He will have to give up the cigars, but it will be like the loss of a soulmate to him, and there will be grief. Try to hold on to your empathy during this process. And good luck! after 15 yrs. I still miss smoking

Your husband is in denial like all addicts and I feel sorry for both of you. It doesn't matter if it's in cigarette, cigar, pipe or chewing tobacco form; it's like an alcoholic who thinks that drinking beer instead of vodka is somehow better.

If you can afford it through health insurance or out of pocket, I strongly urge you to see a marriage and/or addiction counselor -- together if he will go -- but go to the first appointment on your own to get your head together and get some advice on how to approach him.

Addiction is addiction. No matter what the substance is, the fact that he is jeopardizing his health and marriage and can't stop shows how really in the grip of it he is. Best of luck to you

This sounds like a losing battle to me. I think that you should just let him have his one vice and deal with the consequences. Everyone needs one vice

I went fishing last Fall with somebody in the same boat-but worse. The guy had a horrible cough and was smoking cigars like cigarettes. I asked another guy what the deal was and was told he had been a long time cigarette smoker who tried to quit by switching to cigars. Problem was he now inhaled the cigars which supposedly is more potent/addictive/dangerous than the cigarettes were. I was sure he wouldn't make the next fishing trip in 2012.

One answer is your husband has to understand and accept he has an addiction to nicotine-no different than caffeine, diet soda, or heroin. Once over that biggest hurdle it is a matter of tapering off the daily dose slowly. First option is nicotine patches or gum to get the nicotine another way without the need to smoke to get it, then taper down. As long as the body gets the nicotine it craves it doesn't really care how it gets it. The body can adapt to slow change fairly easily so a taper is much more tolerable than just stopping cold turkey. If that isn't do-able then the next option is to add Zyban or perhaps Chantix to the patches (though it's off label it works). He could walk away from years of smoking within a couple weeks with considerable ease. been there

This is slightly a different perspective as I know what you really want is for him to stop smoking cigars. I too always had many problems even tho I did everything perfect, flossed, brushed, had cleaning every 3 months etc my gums kept receding altho they never bleed when brushed. Everytime I went to the periodontist they took a bacteria sample that showed I had bad bacteria still in my mouth and always put me on antibiotics.

After many years of this I just stopped and started a different approach. One thing that can really help the mouth self clean is GOOD bacteria so I started focusing on getting enough good bacteria in my digestive system by making my own sauerkraut etc but one can also do it just be buying some probitotics. The other thing is to clean the mouth first thing in the morning with a spoon of sesame seed oil - just whish it around the mouth until it gets thick (3-5 minutes) and then spit it out. Sounds weird I know but really helpful.

So for me know 6 years after quiting those quarterly cleanings (now I do it just once a year) my mouth gums have not gotten any worse and overall feel healthier. I know this doesn't help with the smell on the clothes etc but you may find that it helps somewhat the smell in the mouth and the health of the mouth. anon

I smoked cigars for 20 years and I can tell you without any doubt that your husband IS addicted to nicotine. I quit cigars and I quite alcohol, and alcohol is easier. There is actually a 12 step program for nicotine adiction, and your husband is a classic denier. It's a huge health issue for anyone, especially him with his gum disease. Do you have grown kids? Have you thought about an ''intervention?'' This is a tough one, and you're going to have to be strong. Best of luck. Anonymous

I'm writing this in loving memory of my father, Noel. It's been almost 20 years, and I miss him every day, and it broke my mother's heart. Let your husband know how hard it's gonna be when he gets cancer. Not just for himself, for everyone who loves him. My dad smoked cigarettes for years, from the age of 7 to about 60. He had a nasty cough, but never seemed to have developed lung cancer. He switched to pipe and cigars about age 60, hoping to slow himself down. This didn't work. He still smoked constantly.

When he developed throat cancer, part of his tongue had to be removed. And within 12 hours after surgery, my mom smuggled in a cigar for him and he smoked it out the window at the hospital (this was in Ireland, where you can open the windows), because he could not bear withdrawal, even though he was on morphine for pain. Horrible crusty painful white thrush infections grew in his mouth and throat due to chemo side effects. You can show your husband a similar photo here: They might give your dear one pause before he lights a cigar again. Doctors placed a radioactive stud in his mouth to keep the cancer growth at bay. You know how it feels when you bite your tongue? Only it never stops. We won't even elaborate about the vomiting.

Dad lived miserably on Ensure milkshakes (sometimes mixed with coffee) for about 3 months. My dad lost 40 lbs, including a lot of atrophied muscle. Supposedly they ''beat'' the cancer, but at what price? He died from heart failure at the age of 68.

Smoking isn't just a habit, it's a lifestyle. Your husband will need support - from doctors, from others trying to quit, from family and friends. He'll need something to do with his mouth; something to do with his hands; some other way to punctuate the activities he's always started and stopped with smoking. I pray he finds a solution that works for him. My dad simply didn't have the self-esteem to quit for himself, but I think if he'd known how hard it would be on my mom, he was codependent enough to do it for her.

Someone suggested letting your husband have one vice. I'd warmly recommend French kissing, knitting, collecting comic books, or playing harmonica. Anything but what he's been doing. I wish you and your husband a life of happiness and health together. ...miss my dad

Smoking and insurance rates

Nov 2010

A family member insists that he can't confide in his doctor about a smoking problem, or his insurance rates will go up. This sounds ridiculous to me--if you can't tell your doctor that you smoke, how can he/she appropriately understand your medical conditions? Who's right? Thanks Anonymous non-smoker

Both of you are right. The doctor's records will be requested by your family member's insurance provider. In addition, if he declares on an insurance document that he doesn't smoke when, in fact, he does he may get dropped for making a factual misrepresentation. Those kind of things follows you.

If your family member is being treated for anything that may be in any way related to smoking, he should confide his smoking to his doctor - end of story. If he's healthy now, keeping his smoking a secret might work for a while but odds are that the smoking will eventually contribute to some sort of health issue, the onset of which will make it obvious that he smokes and the resolution of which will require he fess up. At that point, his insurance company may re-visit the earlier issue of whether he ever lied to them. Your family member doesn't want his insurance discontinued just when his doctor is starting to treat him for a persistent cough or inquire into a spot on his chest x-ray.

Your family member will face fewer future problems if he confesses his smoking and pays the higher rate. He can consider it added incentive to quit.

For even more incentive, remember that quitting smoiking is considered the single most important change one can make to improve one's health. For a ''normal'' person, moderate alcohol consumption, over eating, and not exercising, taken together do not come close to doing the damage smoking does. Chris

you smoke you will get DECLINED!! hate smoking but smoker is right here LAME

He should definitely tell his doctor and it may indeed affect his insurance rates at some point, which is all the more incentive to quit smoking. Sacrificing health for money is just plain dumb. anon

Nicotine use questions for life insurance

March 2008

We are looking into buying life insurance. My husband is a casual nicotine user. By that, I mean, he keeps a pack of smokes in the car and maybe smokes 2 cigarettes a week. He also chews tobacco maybe once a week. So here is the question: how do we answer the nicotine use question? It may sound like I'm trying to scam the insurer but I'm really trying to get at the gradations of use. If we decided to say that he doesn't use, how do they check? Are we just setting ourselves up for not getting the policy payout because of covering up the casual usage? Also, related question: if I am successful at convincing my husband to completely quit, can I just put him down as a permanent non-user since his prior usage has always been so de minimus? Thanks! Just trying to get some facts here. anon

Nicotine can be tested for (I forget whether it's blood or urine) and any life insurance company is going to put you through a whole battery of tests. Although the nicotine goes out of the system in a couple of days, the breakdown product, Continine, can show up for a couple of weeks, even with light tobacco use.

It's better that he quit and then he can honestly be listed as a non-smoker. If they ask about past use, it's up to you to decide if you want to admit to any at all, or say light use many years ago. If he should develop a possibly tobacco related illness in the future and your insurance company becomes involved, they will want to do the test again for nicotine and continine, and if they find any, your policy could be invalidated. Anon

I've had the same quandary- though fortunately my husband finally quit smoking (though he's been on nicotine gum for 2 yrs now!!). Here are the considerations: 1) insurance company probably will not do anything to determine his smoking status 2) only risk is if it shows up anywhere in his medical records- but again, they generally don't dig that deep. So, you could go ''undiscovered''. Unfortunately, I don't think they'll take into consideration how little he smokes. The only big risk, though a tiny one- if your husband became afflicted with lung cancer, or anything else that could be smoking related, and dies, they may do an investigation at that point and disallow the claim if they find any evidence of misinformation on the application. Ugly, but true.

An attorney friend of mine told me about a case he dealt with- man's wife kills him (gunshot/tried to fake it as a a suicide)- then his kids tried to collect on his life insurance. The insurance company did an investigation, and disallowed the claim because the man failed to disclose that he was taking flying lessons when he applied. Of course the flying lessons had no impact on the bullet that killed him, but they had the grounds to deny it. No easy answer, you just have to determine your own risk tolerance. been there

I know from experience that blood is drawn before the policy is issued and checked for nicotine use (as well as illicit drugs.) About a month before we signed up for insurance and received the visit by the health screener, I was finally able to convince my husband to give up recreational smoking: Our insurance premium would be literally TWICE as much each month for those occasional cigarettes. He gave up the cigarettes. But I did lie on the application about his using tobacco products ''in the last 18 months.'' You'd have to take your own moral temperature to decide if honesty to the insurance company is worth the extra money each month. I'd rather the 40 bucks go to my kids (it does!), while my husband continues to stay smoke-free. Not Proud, Butts Out

You're wasting your money if you're not honest. If your husband dies of anything heart or lung related and the diagnosis is related to smoking, the insurance company would likely deny the claim. anon

No need to lie. They'll find it in his urine or blood. They take samples and run them before they give you the insurance. My friend hadn't used pot for a long time (and said he didn't use it), but it showed up in his blood test, so his policy cost a little bit more than his wife's. Don't even bother lying about nicotine use, just consider putting a flier on mouth and throat cancer in your husband's chewing tobacco pouch. I'll bet it is the heightened cancer risk from the chew that will send his insurance rates up. Anonymous

As someone who works for the public agency that oversees these companies my advice is to be completely truthful. If an event happens where a payout is due Insurance companies will scrutinze your application with 10 fine tooth combs to try and find some reason not to pay - if they find a misreprentation on your application, they can rescind your policy leaving you with nothing (except they will refund your premiums paid). How do they find out? Who knows but they always do. the whole truth and nothing but

My sense is that insurance companies use anything they can to minimize or deny paying benefits, including casual lies on policy applications. Is it likely they would find out? Maybe. They often conduct physicals as part of the underwriting process, and may discover his tobacco use during that process. I would answer truthfully. Just my 2 cents

I am a little disappointed in the answers to this question which seem to revolve around whether the insurance company will catch you or not. The question is about current nicotine use - the answer is yes, your husband uses nicotine. If the insurance company wanted gradations, they would have asked, but I believe the question is phrased for a yes or no answer.

If you thought your husband was cheating on you and you confronted him, would you want his answer based on 1) whether he thought he would get caught in a lie, and 2) based on gradations of what he had done? I don't think so. Your Conscience

Toddler is pretending to smoke

May 2007

Help! Here's the situation: nobody in this family smokes. None of our family members smoke. None of our friends smoke. Except for one friend, who lives in NYC, who came to visit for one week. In that one week, which occurred 2 months ago, my toddler saw her smoke two cigarettes outside. Since then, he has become OBSESSED with pretend smoking. He ''smokes'' crayons, pens, straws, sticks, you name it. My husband and I are totally freaked out. We've tried just ignoring the behavior and downplaying when he'd say, all excited, ''Mama! Look, I make smoke!'' (good grief). We've tried telling him that smoking is yucky and that we don't smoke. We've tried taking the crayons, etc away when he uses it as a cigarette. We've tried showing him that the ''real'' way to ''make smoke'' is to light some incense. Nothing works. He loves to pretend to ''make smoke'' and its now one of his favorite activities. The crazy part is that he's never seen another adult smoke before or ever again! I'm shocked and amazed at the power that the two cigarettes had with him. He didn't even know my friend very well yet and was quite shy with her. Ugh. What do I do???? Jenny

When I was a kid, I and everyone I knew used to LOVE candy cigarettes. And those bubblegum cigars. We'd pretend to smoke all the time. Heck, we'd go to the family pizza restaurant with my parents and my brother and I would both ''light up'' our breadsticks. Neither of my parents ever smoked in front of us (my dad quit before either of us kids were born and my mom was a vociferous, maniacal agent against smoking of any kind). Anyway, my brother and I didn't grow up to smoke in grade school, junior high, high school, or college. There are other forces that drive kids to smoke these days. Like watching the Real World on MTV, where all the kids smoke on camera. I would say don't freak out so much because you're kid is going to wonder why it's got your number so bad and might *want* to experiment later on. Jeez, your kid might even like your crazy reaction to every time he says he's smoking! -''Smoked'' cancer-free candy cigarettes

As hard as this will be, ignore it. It will pass. Anon.

Just to give you a bit of perspective: I grew up in a household where both my parents smoked. I was raised in Europe and we celebrated Santa Claus (similar to the Christmas celebration here) and we would always get a little packet of chocolate cigarettes from Santa Claus. I loved those! I loved pretending that I smoked. It was just a pretend game, like pretending I was ironing or vacuuming. I come from a family of 5 children and none of us smoke. All of us played pretend smoking with those chocolate cigarettes, but that really didn't harm or taint us for life. It was fun at that age. That's all. Once we became teenagers and each had to face the facts of smoking, we all individually decided that it was unhealthy. So my advice would be: don't worry about it. It'll pass! JOJ

urgh! my husband smokes and this stuff drives me insane!!!!! here's what i tell my daughter: smoking is a bad choice. and i know that she is a smart girl who loves her body and treats it with respect, and that i hope she would make a good choice and not smoke because that would hurt her. ''but big kids have cigarettes.'' no, smart big kids do not smoke cigarettes. smart big kids choose to treat their bodies with love. ''but daddy smokes cigarettes.'' yes. but you can make a better choice and treat your body with love. get the theme? we went through about 6 weeks of questioning and immitating, and then it all went away. and daddy got tired or hearing the conversations and child almost never sees him smoke any more. good luck. julia

My parents are non-smokers, teetotalers, etc., and I clearly remember pretending to smoke as a kid with pens, pretzel sticks, etc. And my friends who were allowed them (I sure wasn't!) used to dig candy cigarettes. My 3yo does it sometimes, too, and we don't know anyone who smokes. For some reason (it's illicit, it's mysterious, stars do it, oral fixation, etc. -- take your pick depending on the kid's age), it seems to have an appeal. Perhaps for your child the appeal is even in the fact that you get freaked out about it. I'll bet if you ignore it he'll stop. Either way, I'm pretty sure it doesn't mean he'll be a smoker. Don't sweat it

Um. I'm sorry. How exactly is this a problem? Are you worried he's going to toddle over to a cigar bar and buy some stogies? He's three. He's pretending. He can't fly, either -- would you worry if he was pretending to do that? Relax!

p.s. The fact that you and your husband are ''totally freaked out'' by this is probably pretty amusing for your son. It would be to me.

This is a big one with me, as my dad's death was considerably hastened by cigarette smoking. I'm sure that your huge reaction to your son's smoking is part of the reason he's now obsessed with it (children do the very things we hate for a reason...). I decided early on make an effort to avoid having cigarettes be a rebellion thing for my boy, and what I've done (and what up until now has worked), is to respond to questions about smoking in terms of how it makes me sad, and how I feel sorry for the person who is smoking, because they could get really sick someday (Sorry to anyone who's offended by the patronizing tone -- remember, I was talking to a 2 year old). And then to just let it go. When my son went through a (mercifully brief) pretending-to-smoke period, I would just say, in a calm, detached voice, ''Oh, that's too bad.'' Nothing else. It seemed like basically ignoring it helped it go away. Karen

Ignore it. The more attention you give this behavior, the more you will get. This too shall pass. don't sweat the small stuff

Your toddler is just trying to process something new that he has seen--your friend smoking--by acting it out. This is normal. It doesn't mean that he WANTS to smoke. For the most part, I'd suggest that you don't make a big deal about it, although you should continue to reinforce your ''smoking is yucky'' message in a way that is not heavy-handed. Meaning, if your toddler is imitating smoking and wanting to get your attention, you should respond by saying in a bored way, ''Smoking is yucky, honey.'' If your toddler asks you why your friend smokes, just explain that because your friend is an adult, she can choose to smoke--although smoking is bad for her health and that you'd be very sad if she ever got really sick from smoking. If your toddler is pretend-smoking, say to him playfully, ''Oh, we don't allow smoking in the house. You'll have to go outside to do that.'' Then put him outside in the yard and leave him alone. Or say, ''Oh, too bad. I wanted to give you a kiss, but now that you're smoking, your mouth smells yucky, so I won't kiss you.'' He'll get the message. Smoking is yucky

Father-in-law smoking outside - damaging to baby?

Aug 2005

Obviously, i would never allow anyone to smoke in the home with my baby. But i have a question about some gray area. My father in law smokes and when he visists he goes outside to smoke and when he comes in i can smell the smoke smell on him. He usually waits a few minutes before coming back into the house, and the smell is not super strong, but i can smell it. It seems to me that smoke smell means smoke fumes and i feel that this might be damaging to my baby if he is breathing this air. I dont want to over-react or be a paranoid mom, but i of course will raise the issue if my son's health is at risk. Does anyone know about this? anon

If you can smell the nasties, the nasties are there. That said as a pediatrician when parents ask me about this situation I tell them that a good relationship with the grandparents is probably more important to the child than avoiding trace exposure to second-hand smoke. You can ask grandpa to use a ''smoking jacket'' when he goes outside if he doesn't do so already. Any old sweater or jacket that he wears when smoking and takes off before he comes into the house will do. Kate

I wouldn't worry about it. I don't think you're compromising your son's health. Probably more than anything, your baby will be developing an association between the smell and grandpa.

Preschooler's questions about smoking

Feb 2004

My 3.5 year old is raised fairly conservatively, with only the occasional taped PBS program and nothing else for video/TV stimulation. Lately, he's become fascinated with firemen and everything to do with fire. In the last day, he's asked me about 40 questions about cigarettes.

''why is he cigaretting?''

That's the biggie.

Could you guys please tell me what you tell your children about smoking right at the beginning, when they're young?

We have told him that ''stinky smokers'' as my husband calls them are doing something that smells not good and is not good for them. This perplexes him. How could adults do something not good for them? I have told him that we can all make decisions in our lives, about everything, and that smokers have made a decision that is not good for them.

I'd love to have more of a rote answer when the topic comes up, and I'd LOVE to have a way to divert him away from the topic (since I think he's just interested because smoke comes out of a cigarette, just like fire.) thank you, cat

I have told my son pretty consistently that the stuff in cigarettes (which got called by its own name, nicotine, when he asked) tricks a person's body into thinking that the cigarettes are good for the person. By the time most smokers learn otherwise, their bodies are already convinced (wrongly) that they need this stuff which is actually really awful for them. My father was a smoker, which contributed to his death; while I don't want to demonize smokers, I also want to ensure that my son doesn't become a smoker. I've told him by now (6 y.o.) that people often start when they're younger and think ''just one or two won't hurt me'' or ''it looks cool'' - and that their bodies are tricked before they realize it. It's really hard, but not impossible, to convince their bodies to do without the cigarettes once it happens. BTW, my son is determined never to let HIS body be ''tricked'' at all, and refuses even to go near a cigarette butt in the road.

As an off-and-on smoker myself (and a sensitive human being), I am quite offended by the term ''stinky smokers''. Especially considering that you are conveying it to your children. I don't think it's ever a good idea to teach a child to ridicule any person. I think it's important that you teach your child that it is the cigarette that you are opposed to, not the person. Nice person with a bad habit

My 3.5 year old started asking similar questions when a number of people working on our remodel were smoking. I told him that most people start smoking when they are young and don't have enough experience in the world to make a good decision. Young people are often more concerned about fitting in with friends (who are the smokers) than with their long term health. Unfortunately, smoking is habit forming and when these young people get old enough to realize what a mistake they have made, they have a very difficult time giving up smoking. That satisfied him. He still talks about it occasionally, but usually in the context of ''icky smoke'' and ''I don't like the smell of that, so I cover my nose.'' Karen

I think you have explained it well: Adults don't always make good choices. What a valuable lesson to learn! The part that you may still want to explain is the concept of addiction - once started, hard to stop. I told my daughter that the brain creates a ''feel good'' feeling and when the smoking stops, the feeling goes down and only comes back up with the next cigarette. Then remind your child how hard it is to only eat one potato chip or one m (They understand immediately). When we visit Germany my daughter gets quite annoyed with smokers and will say in their presence in a restaurant or while waiting at a bus stop ''I wish (s)he stopped smoking, it smells really bad'' - sometimes with success. I will let her express herself freely in this respect, because not too many adults have heard that from a six year old girl and it has worked wonders on several occasions. Anonymous

THis sounds pretty common for his age. My son goes thru phases of asking tons of questions over and over about one specific topic, then after we've answered them consistently, he moves on. How about something like: Cigareyyes contain chemical that cause cancer and make you sick. They also make it hard for a person to stop smoking once they start. If he seems confused by why adults do this, there's no harm in saying that you don't know why or that adults sometimes make bad choices. Jen

Here's what I said (and keep saying, even now that they're older), in addition to the things you're already saying: One of the really bad things about smoking, is that once a person starts, it can be VERY hard to stop. Adults who smoke now started smoking before they knew just how bad it is for you (not true for everyone, of course, but I'll stretch the truth for this), and now their body is so hooked on it, they haven't been able to quit yet. They know they might get sick from it later, but smoking is so addictive, it's VERY HARD to quit. I'm glad we all know that now, so you won't ever smoke! R.K.

You could say Sometimes grownups do things they know they shouldn't do. Just like kids. But we have to keep trying.