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By Joseph P. Kahn, Globe Staff | July 25, 2005
The penultimate episode of ''Everybody Loves Raymond" outed one of the series' recurrent characters -- Pat MacDougall, played by actress
Georgia Engel -- as a secret cigarette smoker. Family members were stunned, if not amused, to discover Pat had been puffing away for years, concealing her
habit with the aid of breath mints, air freshener, and other coverups.
One viewer who found herself laughing on the outside while cringing on the inside was Mary, a South Shore bank employee. For Mary, Pat's dirty little
secret was more than an uproarious sitcom subplot. It was an awkward slice of life.
At home, Mary (like others interviewed for this article, she requested that her full name not be used) leans out her bathroom window, blowing smoke into
the sky so her boyfriend won't smell it. When smoking in her car, she rolls down the windows, no matter how cold or rainy it is outside. On visits to her
parents' house, she'll duck behind a backyard tree to grab a quick cigarette, praying she doesn't get caught.
Forty-five years old, not breaking any laws, and Mary acts like a teenager sneaking her first Camel behind the school gym.
Oh, what some people will apparently do for a date with Mr. Butts.
''I don't want to hear the grief, mostly from family and friends," Mary explains when asked why she's reluctant to light up in front
of people who know her. ''They're very judgmental."
Mary is hardly alone in preferring to smoke in secrecy rather than run afoul of societal attitudes toward cigarette smoking, which are negative enough by
now to drive Joe Camel into the witness protection program.
Health issues notwithstanding, 46 million Americans continue to smoke, however, openly or not. According to one study, 70 percent have a desire to quit,
and nearly half make an attempt to, yet only 10 percent enjoy much success.
While no study has quantified how many are ''secret" smokers, the number may be higher than most suspect. Following the revelation that ABC
News anchor Peter Jennings, a former smoker, is being treated for lung cancer, New York magazine polled 100 smokers about how often they smoke, where they
smoke, and other aspects of their habit. One-third confessed to hiding their smoking from parents, bosses, children, or spouses.
In at least one state, Georgia, teachers and other public employees risk losing their health insurance for a year if they're caught lying about their
''I understand the health part," says Donna, a receptionist for a Chelsea home-supplies company. ''It's feeling like a criminal
Secret smoking isn't just sitcom fodder, either. No less a public figure than Laura Bush was pegged as a secret smoker (her press secretary would
neither confirm nor deny press reports) as recently as last year, long after she supposedly gave up cigarettes in the early 1990s. According to an October
2002 Washington Post article, the first lady has been known to reach for a cigarette in times of stress, provided no photographers are there to catch her in
The White House Weekly published a February 2004 article suggesting Bush was still struggling with the habit. According to the report, a White House
waiter admitted scrambling to find the first lady a cigarette during a fund-raiser at the presidential residence.
And yet the Republic somehow still stands.
Donna can relate. She loved that ''Raymond" episode also, for much the same guilty-pleasure reason. Having tried to quit dozens of times, she
can't quite seem to quit her Kools for keeps. Yet Donna never smokes around the office. She only does it on her lunch breaks when she's far from the
workplace, where nobody she knows might catch her in the act.
''I feel like the office drug addict," Donna confesses. ''They all think it's nasty. They'd look down on me if they knew I
A few close friends share her secret habit, says Donna. Fortunately she's single and doesn't have a husband who's antismoking, as many of them
do. Or she'd be bathing with Listerine and chain-chewing Altoids.
''How do you hide it completely?" she wonders. ''If you can't smoke in the car, do you pull over and light up? Come on. If you
can hide something like that from your husband, you can hide anything, I guess."
Anecdotal evidence suggests not all closet smokers fit into one neat carton. Some resumed smoking recently, after going years without cigarettes, and seem
unsure of what to do about their situation. The enjoyment they get from smoking is frequently undercut by guilt about compromising their health, they say,
not to mention the health of their most intimate relationships.
''I won't buy [cigarettes], but every now and then I'll bum one from friends," says Lisa, who took up smoking (again) while traveling
on company sales trips with colleagues who smoke. Her husband remains clueless about her tobacco jones -- or did until a couple of months ago, when she
decided to quit again -- yet his ignorance seems to have worked to her advantage.
''I'd been fighting whether this was something temporary or permanent," Lisa says. ''If I acknowledged it to him, I was afraid it
might become a full-time habit again. Now I just have one every once in a while."
Mark, an Orlando, Fla., dietitian, doesn't smoke at home or at work but still manages to go through 10 to 15 Marlboro Lights daily. Friends call him a
closet smoker, he says, because he's so discreet about it they're amazed to see him smoke at all.
''I don't really hide it, but I certainly don't brag about it, either," Mark says. ''I have a daughter who knows I smoke and
doesn't like it, though, so I don't do it around her. My intentions are to quit."
Still others say they've lied outright about their smoking and are prepared to do so again if it means avoiding an ugly or embarrassing
Joan, a Boston-area college administrator, started smoking again recently after quitting a two-pack-a-day habit years ago. Her boyfriend, who's never
seen her smoke, stopped by her apartment unexpectedly one day and smelled smoke. He asked suspiciously who'd been smoking.
''I had no one else to blame, so I told him I enjoyed one every once in a while," says Joan. ''It was totally untrue. Actually, I
smoke about half a pack a day."
Then there was the couple's vacation weekend together, Joan says, when she didn't touch a cigarette for three days. As soon as her boyfriend
dropped her off at home, however, she lit one up. ''I'm struggling with this," she admits.
What drives some smokers to cloak their habit in such secrecy?
One point on which most agree is that the social stigma around smoking makes it a hard habit to manage, and thus more tempting to disguise. Smoke-free
office buildings, hotel rooms, bars, and restaurants have driven smokers into quasi-legal exile. Relatives and co-workers don't just frown at the habit,
they recite scary statistics about secondhand smoke. Public-education campaigns and rising taxes on cigarettes have also helped make smoking both riskier and
more costly than ever.
''You can drink socially and not be called an alcoholic," says Lisa. ''But if you smoke socially, you're a smoker.
All smoking aside, how toxic might the behavior itself be?
While most smokers recognize that cigarettes are bad for them, says clinical psychologist Maryann Troiani, they may be less than truthful with themselves
when it comes to measuring the harmful effects of secrecy.
''Psychologically, it's as bad as cheating on your spouse and hiding it," says Troiani, coauthor of ''Spontaneous Optimism:
Proven Strategies for Health, Prosperity & Happiness." ''When you're not truthful, it's a big wedge in the relationship."
Whether it's having an extramarital affair or habitually visiting strip clubs or overeating in secret, it's ''all the same can of
worms," according to Troiani. ''Some people view it as risk-taking behavior, as living their lives on the edge," she says.
''However, most feel uneasy and uncertain about keeping secrets."
Even Joan, when pressed, acknowledges that if she's forced to choose between smoking and her relationship, it would be a tough call. That's one
reason her next vacation won't be with her boyfriend. Instead, Joan plans to meet a girlfriend in Europe, where smoking is a more accepted -- even
cherished -- custom.
''When I get home," Joan says, ''we'll see what happens."
Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at [email protected]
Note: Smoking was referred to as a "habit" ten times in this article. The only reference to the term addiction was the line,
""I feel like the office drug addict."
Aug 11 05 7:21 AM
Jan 19 06 7:37 AM
Hiding From The Truth,
Come Out Of the Closet!
Just One Day At A Time
May 7 06 4:49 PM
Imagine the nightmare of trying to hide a chemical dependency that must be fed multiple times daily. Imagine the mountain of lies you'd need to tell.
Imagine badly need a fix but not being able to do so. Imagine it happening often. My grandma Polito was a closet (bathroom) smoker. Oh how I wish she were
still here and I could share what we've learned. Not being taught the law of addiction and the power of a puff is a horrible reason to die.
Even recovered closet smokers can share what they've learned without giving away their secret by simply printing and gifting copies of Joel's
articles. They do not need to know were you've been in order to learn where they can go. Knowledge is an empowering tool to give. Still just one
guiding principle ... no nicotine today, Never Take Another Puff, Dip or Chew! Celebrate this moment of freedom - you've won!
John (Gold x6)
Sep 18 06 6:37 PM
Mar 31 07 2:00 AM
Mar 31 07 2:09 AM
Instead, congratulate them in every way possible. Let them constantly know how proud you are of them. Lay it on thick. The guilt will eat them alive.
Maybe it will make them realize the lie they are living and embarrass them into one of two actions.
One, they may just fess up. At least you will have a little more trust of them. But it may take another more positive turn. They may feel so guilty that
they quit smoking. The pleasure of a drug fix will be short lived when the guilt of every puff is added to the other obvious problems that go along with
The more smoking is recognized as a liability, interfering with a person's health, life, money, self-esteem, the way they smell, look, are perceived
by others, and even their personal integrity is at risk as is in the case here, the more likely logic will finally prevail. The only logical solution to
avoid such a way of life is to never take another puff!
Sep 23 07 6:34 PM
Posted on Fri, Sep. 21, 2007
The Charlotte Observer, Charlotte, N.C., USA
He promised to quit before they married.
He stubbed out his cigarette, washed his face with scented soap and for two months he abstained. He said his wedding vows, toasted her with champagne and
honeymooned at a resort, all without a cigarette.
Back in Charlotte, as he faced work again, he felt an irresistible urge to smoke.
He opened his desk drawer and there it was, a pack of Camel Lights he had hidden. He reached in. With more desire than regret, he got up and returned to
his old haunt, an alcove behind his office where he knew he would find the other smokers standing around a terra cotta flowerpot.
The first couple of puffs tasted bitter the way he remembers his first cigarette in junior high. Then a familiar heady adrenaline rush kicked in, and he
was hooked all over again.
He is The Closet Smoker, and that pack of Camel Lights in his desk is his dirty little secret.
You may know someone like him: an alcoholic perhaps, or a gambler or drug abuser. The pleasure they get from their addictions makes them do things they
would not ordinarily do: indulge in risky behavior and lie about it.
The Closet Smoker knows better. In so many other ways he takes care of himself and the people around him.
He lifts weights, takes a multivitamin and avoids fast food. He enjoys a good bottle of wine and an occasional sushi dinner out, but he's not
extravagant. If his car needs an oil change or tire rotation, he does it himself.
He's not yet 40, a professional in Charlotte. His boss says she's impressed by his savvy and creativity, and by the little things he does to help
around the office, such as cleaning up the kitchen.
Most evenings, he cooks dinner for his wife. He phones his mother every day, or sends an instant message. Weekends, he might take his daughter golfing or
On Sundays, you'll find him in church.
His best friends know his secret. Everybody at work knows. But not the people who mean the most to him, his wife, his mother and his daughter.
He's embarrassed to admit he lies to them. He says he wouldn't lie for any other reason. He feels guilty, ashamed that he's capable of
deceiving the three most important people in his life for a cigarette. He worries what will happen if they find out.
They're right, and he knows it. He shouldn't smoke. It's bad for him. He researched smoking for a science project in eighth grade and
discovered that a few drops of nicotine in liquid form can kill you.
Years of smoking, he knows, might kill him, too.
The nature of addiction
The Closet Smoker is sensible about most things. Yet his compulsion to smoke overpowers his common sense.That's the nature of addiction.
It's part of being human. Our brains are wired to reinforce behaviors we need to survive. Eating, drinking, sex. These behaviors stimulate pleasure
circuits in the brain. Nicotine over-stimulates the circuits. It floods the brain with a neurotransmitter called dopamine that makes us feel good. Cocaine
and heroin act in similar ways.
One reason nicotine and these other drugs are so addictive is they work on the same brain circuitry we use for survival.
Our brains become hijacked. We have to have more.
Scientists have turned to brain imaging to learn about addiction. They discovered that the decision-making part of an addict's brain, the region that
controls judgment, is no longer as effective. That could help explain why we become hooked on things when we know we shouldn't.
We're all capable of addictive behavior.
Anything to look cool
The Closet Smoker's initiation came in middle school. His older brother smoked, and The Closet Smoker occasionally sneaked one.
He wanted to like cigarettes. He wanted to look grown-up like his brother.
But what he remembers most from those early attempts is a burning sensation on the tip of his tongue and in his chest, followed by a fit of coughing.
He bought his first pack freshman year in high school. He was 15. State law then as now said no one under 18 could buy cigarettes, and for a while he
bummed off older friends. Then he learned about a convenience store on the way to school where the clerk didn't check IDs.
He asked for Marlboros. Everybody he knew smoked Marlboros, the cowboy's brand, America's favorite cigarette. He wanted to be like everybody. He
paid for that first pack with money he earned bagging groceries at the Winn-Dixie.
He tucked the little red and white box in his backpack and headed off to school, a member of a new fraternity.
He ignored the taste. It was more important to him to be like everybody than to actually enjoy smoking. And it didn't take too many cigarettes before
the taste grew on him like the taste of another adult pleasure he had learned to like, black coffee.
He says most students smoked. The fortunes of their town, like so many towns in North Carolina, were built on tobacco. It was still the state's
biggest cash crop when he was in school, and even now brings in $400 million a year.
Of course, teenagers smoked.
Many of their parents did, too. The Closet Smoker's dad smoked three packs a day for 30 years before giving it up.
High school students could smoke between classes, at recess and at lunch with a parent's permission. The Closet Smoker's parents didn't
approve, but he says he got so he could get in a smoke in 45 seconds and no one ever caught him.
He remembers the night of a basketball game, hanging out in the parking lot with friends, most of them sneaking beer, then one person asked if anyone had
a cigarette and another person wanted one, too, and then another. He was the only one with a pack, and he passed it around.
That night, he was The Man.
Loved ones worry
His first wife, he says, hated his smoking.Before they married, he was up to a pack and a half a day. Thirty cigarettes every day.
He says she complained about the smell, and the taste when they kissed, and the stale odor of his clothes, and the butts in the flowerpot on the deck.
Most of all, he says, she hated what smoking might do to him: the heart disease and bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, lung cancer and other cancers.
Everyone knows smoking kills. Half of all Americans who smoke will die because of it, about 400,000 people every year, twice as many people as die from
alcohol, drugs, fires, car accidents, homicide, suicide and AIDS combined.
Kids in preschool know smoking kills. Yet more than 46 million people in our country smoke. The Closet Smoker, like many addicts, assumes it won't
happen to him.
He tried to quit.
He really did, he says, and once he almost succeeded.
He went without a cigarette for several months after college and he felt much better. He had more stamina. He no longer had that nagging smoker's
Then he took a job at a company where most employees smoked. They stopped working every day at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. for 15 minutes of smoking and
Within two weeks, he was in there with them.
He tried to hide his habit after his daughter was born, but when she was 4 she caught him.
He had sneaked out to the patio like a teenager. She went looking for him. She opened the door and there stood her father, a cigarette dangling between
Daddy, that's nasty!
He felt ashamed. He snuffed out the butt between his fingers and flushed it down the toilet. But he didn't quit. From that day on, he just made sure
he never again smoked around her.
He doesn't want his daughter to smoke.
His parents didn't want him to.
His dad once offered him $1,000 if he would quit.
The Closet Smoker thinks he's fooling his new wife.
He smokes his last cigarette at work around 4:30 most afternoons, then washes away the smell from his face with scented soap. He drives home, car windows
open, chewing gum or sucking mints. He chews gum on weekends just so she won't wonder why he's always chewing gum when he gets home from work.
He doesn't smoke in his car. He doesn't smoke on Saturdays or Sundays. He sometimes smokes when he's out to lunch, but mostly he confines his
smoking to the alcove behind his office.
He and two co-workers knock on each other's doors on their way out, four or five times a day, more on bad days. The Closet Smoker says he enjoys the
socializing as much as the smoking. If he didn't smoke, how could he justify taking so many breaks?
They stand in the alcove in 104-degree heat. They're out there in freezing rain. They can't be picky. Finding a place to smoke is not easy any
You certainly can't smoke at school. In your office? Few businesses allow it. Even outdoors in many places, you're a pariah; no one wants to
breathe your secondhand smoke.
As bare and ugly as the alcove is, The Closet Smoker looks forward to being there every Monday morning.
What happens inside
Every Monday morning, after two days without nicotine, his first cigarette gives him a kick more powerful than any he'll get all week.He balances the
Camel Light between his lips, then cuffs his hands around his lighter. A flame shoots up. The tip of the cigarette burns. He inhales, drawing smoke deep
inside. Particles of tar, the same stuff used to pave highways, carry the nicotine through his windpipe, then down his left and right bronchi and into his
He holds onto the smoke for a few seconds before exhaling.
The nicotine flows through small tubes in his lungs called bronchioles and into millions of tiny air sacs that puff up every time he inhales. From there,
it enters his bloodstream.
It takes about eight seconds to reach his brain.
Before he can take another puff, he feels the effects of the first. The gratification is immediate and that's one reason nicotine is so addictive.
He feels a lift of energy. His heart beats faster, his blood pressure rises. He is focused, more attentive. He feels ready to tackle work again.
What he doesn't feel are the poisons circulating through his body:
Cyanide, benzene, formaldehyde, methanol and acetylene, ammonia, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, more than 4,000 chemicals in each cigarette, the same
chemicals used to kill rats, make gasoline and nail polish, and embalm dead bodies.
The nicotine is what hooked him; it's the chemicals in cigarettes that may kill him.
They're the reason this summer he couldn't swim underwater from one end of his apartment pool and back again without coming up for air.
He says his wife blamed his lack of stamina on years of smoking, not knowing he is still at it.
A partial confession
Since they married, he says she has confronted him a few times about the smell of cigarettes.
His heart beat faster, his blood pressure rose, but not in a pleasant way. He says he confessed. Sort of. He says he told her each time that, yes, he
smoked that day. He didn't tell her he smokes every day at work.
He says she hates the smell and the taste and, most of all, she hates what cigarettes might do to him. How could he promise to be with her forever, when
he shortens forever by several minutes or more with every cigarette?
He says he had every intention of quitting. He's had every intention of quitting every time he's tried. Most smokers want to quit, but it usually
takes several tries. The Closet Smoker says he has tried 15 to 20 times.
What he tells himself
Maybe he can't quit.So he gives himself permission, the way addicts do: "I firmly believe that a lot of lung cancer that's smoking related is
because people sit inside and continuously breathe in the smoke. I don't smoke inside."
He rationalizes, the way addicts do, that his smoking doesn't affect his family because he doesn't smoke in front of them.
But The Closet Smoker is a smart guy and when he hears what he's just said, he knows it doesn't make sense. "Now that I've said it out
loud, I guess it's a little short-sighted of me because I don't see it as directly affecting them. Long-sighted, my health and my early demise
will affect them."
Most of all, he says, he hates deceiving the people he loves.
Smoking Kills, Yet We Light Up
One in 20 middle school students in North Carolina smokes cigarettes, according to the American Lung Association. By high school, one in five students
in the state smokes, and the percentage grows slightly among adults. They smoke despite evidence that smoking is responsible for nearly one in five deaths in
the United States. Consider these statistics from the CDC:
• Smoking causes 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in women, and nearly 80 percent in men, and many other types of cancer.
• If you smoke, you're two to four times as likely to develop coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United
• Smoking doubles a person's risk for stroke.
In the Closet
More than 46 million people in the United States smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No one knows how many are closet
smokers. After news reports that ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, a former smoker, had lung cancer, New York magazine polled 100 smokers; one-third said they
hid their habit from parents, bosses, children or spouses.
How We Reported the Story
Elizabeth Leland interviewed Professor Steven Childers of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, who studies the effect of drug addiction on the
brain, and Dr. Cindy Miner, a deputy director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Leland also researched addiction and nicotine through publications
such as "Psychology Today" and on Web sites of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Stanford University, Harvard University and others. She read
about the history and economics of tobacco, and got data from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and the American Cancer Society. She interviewed The Closet
Smoker and his boss. He agreed to be the subject of a story on condition that she not reveal his identity.
Elizabeth Leland: 704-358-5074; [email protected].
STORY BEHIND THE STORY
My head gets all stuffed up around cigarette smoke, so reporting this story wasn't always easy. But The Closet Smoker intrigued me: I wanted to
understand his addiction and how he keeps it secret.
Story source link: http://www.charlotte.com/505/story/287771.html
Copyright 2007 Charlotte Oberserver - All Rights Reserved
Oct 23 07 6:48 AM
Oct 24 07 8:46 PM
Jan 4 08 6:56 PM
May 20 08 10:59 AM
Nov 17 08 4:21 PM
The only logical solution to this problem is to quit smoking."
(From Joel's original above)
The Power of Logic - Your Road To Healing - Welcome To
Isolation of a widowed smoker
Feb 25 09 11:46 AM
There was nothing that I wouldn't do to get a cigarette when I was in the closet. This thread brings back all of that and I never want to
be in that situation again. I don't even know how long i hid it (or tried to) it was a long time, like probably 3 years. How ridiculous. Missing out on
things is putting it mildly. I missed whole weekends of doing things just so I could stay home alone and smoke. How ridiculous. If I had not finally told
everyone that I was smoking I don't know if I could have quit. It was too easy to slip back and I did try several times but never made it even 2 days.
Driving around with my vehicle windows open oh boy does that bring back "embarassing memories". It would be 30 below and that is what I would be
doing, NO anyone that has quit now, if you were in the closet, spill the beans. It is far better in the end and you will have the support from family and
friends that you need. That way you can make sure you "Never Take Another Puff"
Feb 27 09 11:07 AM
Mar 15 10 9:14 PM
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