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Originally published Sunday, March 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Done with cigarettes, but hooked on the cure

If media reports about Barack Obama are true, he and I have something in common. We are both addicted to the things that have helped us quit smoking.

Contra Costa Times

If media reports about Barack Obama are true, he and I have something very personal in common.

We are both addicted to the things that have helped us quit smoking.

Obama, The New York Times reported, is chewing nicotine gum as a way to quit — and has been for months longer than recommended by the product manufacturer.

I, on the other hand, have fallen in love with my nicotine nasal spray, happily spraying away several weeks after the recommended time period on the box.

We're hooked again, but this time on something not as deadly as cigarette smoke.

As a smoker since childhood, smoking was woven into every part of my personal and social life. If I was angry or upset, I'd have a cigarette. If I was happy and having a good time, I'd celebrate with a smoke. I'd drive with cigarettes and take a break from gardening with cigarettes. I would often spend a sunny day on an outdoor chair with a book in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

Now I don't. But breaking myself from the addiction of the drug nicotine is proving to be hard.

Stuck on spray

As I said in my first column about quitting smoking ("Butt out: kicking pack-a-day habit," Dec. 30, 2007, Northwest Life), I quit by using the nicotine patch, nicotine nasal spray, Welbutrin and counseling. I broke away from the patch after the rough first week of quitting, and counseling has ended.

I knew when I took up the nasal spray as a nicotine replacement therapy that I might get addicted to it. It seemed impossible at first — the nasal spray burned my nose worse than anything I could imagine. Eventually, though, I got used to it and started enjoying my occasional huffs from the small, brown bottle. I didn't even mind the unsightly side effects, which include watering eyes and a constantly running nose.

Then, a little over a week ago, I started to get lightheaded. I felt as if I had just had a quick run or blown up a few balloons. I grew concerned and called my nurse friend, the one who encouraged me to quit.

He said the nasal spray was probably giving me my lightheaded feeling. Maybe, he said, it is time to quit the nasal spray.

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"From my cold, dead hands," I joked, figuring the dizziness would go away in time.

The price of addiction

Then something else came up: The finances of my quitting.

Just like smoking, quitting smoking is not cheap, unless you do it cold turkey. All the anti-smoking aids out there — patches, nasal spray, Chantix, gum — cost money, and those costs are not usually covered by health insurance. I was on my own paying for my beloved nasal spray, which runs about $200 a month.

"Patches work too, but it's your money," my doctor joked during a routine visit after I told him how much I loved the spray, but complained about its expense.

Patches don't work as well for me as the four-method combo I used to quit. I had used patches before. I had used gum before. I had tried to quit cold turkey, and nothing worked. But the nasal spray satisfied my immediate need for nicotine and got me through the harder times.

I figured I would use the spray less and less over time, stretching out the expense to where it would be cheaper to use the spray than it would be to smoke. That didn't happen.

Turns out, I was using the nicotine nasal spray as much as I would have smoked. It was a great tool initially, when I was desperate for anything to help me quit smoking, but over time it had become a crutch. Now it was affecting me negatively, both healthwise and via my bank account.

Chewing on something new

This past week, I snorted the last of my spray and chucked the bottles in the garbage. I went to buy a less-effective but more-accessible nicotine replacement system, nicotine gum, to keep me off the smokes. I miss my spray dearly, but not as much as I miss my cigarettes.

But now that I am not smoking, I am no longer coughing and feeling awful. And now that I am no longer using the spray, I no longer feel lightheaded.

I wish I could do it without all the aids, just by not thinking about smoking, but I simply can't. Maybe Obama and I can try to quit gum together — that is, if he's not busy for the next four years.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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