Death of the Marlboro Man
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Death of the Marlboro Man


Death of the Marlboro ManRemember this guy? The ruggedly handsome cowboy who starred in the Marlboro ads from 1978-1981? Well, his name was Eric Lawson and he died this week at the age of 72 from respiratory failure due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Apparently, he started smoking at the age of 14.

Is this interesting? I mean, 72 isn’t all that young and he appeared in anti-smoking ads as well so it’s hard to say how significant this is. More interesting, I thought was the recent piece on the death of looking at smokers as weak-willed rather than as addicts from Canada’s Globe and Mail. I guess I didn’t realize there were people out there who weren’t treating smoking as an addiction—who have been, in the words of this piece, placing smokers in “utterly ineffective [smoking cessation programs that]are based on outdated notions such as smokers being weak-willed.”

The piece then argues that addiction to smoking should be treated the way addiction to any other drug is treated because “nicotine is a powerful drug and if we want people to quit successfully, they need to be treated with equally powerful drugs” and here’s where my mind screeches to a halt. A great many addicts—pretty much all the sober ones I know—got that way without addiction replacement drugs so there’s no argument in my mind that anyone quitting a powerful drug “needs” a powerful drug in order to make the transition. And while sure, I know people who have been on Chantix or Zyban or whatever and have no judgment about quitting that way whatsoever, I know many more who put down smokes the same way they put down drugs—cold turkey.

My own nicotine story, in brief: I smoked somewhere between half a pack of cigarettes and two packs of cigarettes a day for 13 years—in short, I was as committed to smoking as one can be (when you’re smoking two packs a day, you have to work pretty hard to make that happen and still sleep). Then, when I was nine months sober, a woman took me to a 12-step meeting for nicotine addicts. (I went because she told me that a guy I had a crush on went there.) I thought these people seemed ludicrous. A 12-step program for cigarettes? I thought they needed a life. They used the word “smober” to describe being a former smoker and they didn’t even use it ironically. And yet I never smoked again after that first meeting. Not because of some woo-woo experience that immediately transformed me into a non-smoker but because I made a decision to try to stop at that meeting (rest assured, I smoked on the way there) and then endured the most hellish three weeks imaginable where I cried, ranted, yelled and constantly, constantly craved a cigarette. I took the same spiritual steps as I took when I quit drugs and alcohol—which is to say I worked to turn my addiction to smoking over to something bigger than myself. And all I can say about that is that quitting smoking went from being the hardest thing I’d experienced to the easiest once I was fully detoxed.

We all have our ways of quitting and I take medication myself that plenty of people judge so I’m in no position to say smokers shouldn’t try Wellbutrin or nicotine gum or whatever they want to get off cigarettes. But can we not assume that everyone needs drugs or we’re going to all end up Marlboro Men (and Women)?

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About Author

Anna David is the founder and former CEO/Editor-in-Chief of After Party. She hosts the Light Hustler podcast, formerly known as the AfterPartyPod. She's also the New York Times-bestselling author of the novels Party Girl and Bought and the non-fiction books Reality Matters, Falling For Me, By Some Miracle I Made It Out of There and True Tales of Lust and Love. She's written for numerous magazines, including Playboy, Cosmo and Details, and appeared repeatedly on the TV shows Attack of the Show, The Today Show and The Talk, among many others.