A quitter’s tale : 10 desolate daysAs a smoker myself, I sympathized with Jung Jin-young, the 39-year-old actor who recently appeared in the action film “Wild Card.” After 20 years of smoking, he recently announced that he planned to kick the habit.
But that’s no excuse for what he did to me.
Mr. Jung said that he was quitting for his wife and 5-year-old son and for himself, and so he would enter a 10-day trial period. If he succeeded, he would try to continue as a nonsmoker for a month.
I accompanied him to the National Cancer Center in Ilsan, just northwest of Seoul. Before entering the hospital, Mr. Jung asked me, “Why don’t I have my last cigarette before I walk in?” He admitted that the night before, he had smoked every cigarette he could find lying around the house.
Once in the hospital, we met Dr. Yoon Young-ho at the Department of Family Medicine. The good doctor performed a few tests and found extremely high concentrations of nicotine in Mr. Jung’s urine, and carbon monoxide in his breath, confirming what he already knew ― Mr. Jung was indeed a heavy smoker.
But Mr. Jung has been down this road before. He said that three times he had tried to quit, and three times he had failed.
Naturally, Dr. Yoon was skeptical of his chances, so he advised Mr. Jung that his will would be much greater if he tried to quit with a good friend.
“That’s great,” cried out Mr. Jung.
And that’s when he did it. He turned to me and asked “Why don’t you quit with me?”
Me. A pack-a-day smoker for 16 years. What I will do for a story.
It is a good time to try quitting. The Korean government will be expanding nonsmoking zones and regulations throughout the country starting Tuesday.
Smoking will be banned on the platforms at above-ground subway stations (it is already banned below ground), soccer stadiums and baseball stadiums. Hospitals are also to be designated as cigarette-free zones, as are, most perplexingly, funeral homes (if ever there was a suitable place for smoking, funeral homes would have to be it).
Restaurants of more than 148 square meters (1,500 square feet) and Internet cafes will have to dedicate half their space to nonsmokers.
Smokers who ignore the rules face fines of 20,000 to 30,000 won ($16 to 25), and store owners risk fines of up to 3 million won.
On the first day, Mr. Jung called on the phone and told me that after taking a long daytime nap he felt great. I, on the other hand, had started to show signs of withdrawal symptoms. With only half a day gone, the hands started to shake irritably.
Mr. Jung said he had cleared his schedule so he could focus on his effort to drive out the nicotine addiction.
From the second to the fourth day my symptoms became worse. My head felt heavy and every white line on the road looked like a cigarette. Mr. Jung on the other hand still said there was nothing unusual.
On the fifth day around 9 p.m., it was clear over the phone that Mr. Jung had had a few drinks. He said he was having few rounds of beer with friends.
The next morning Mr. Jung called and confessed. He had taken a cigarette. But, he quickly added, “I only inhaled once and put it out.” He said he regretted his lapse.
On the seventh day Mr. Jung was shooting another movie at Buyeo, South Chungcheon province.
Curious about how the actor was making out, I called up Mr. Jung’s agent, who said that when everyone was drinking after the day’s filming, Mr. Jung kept fondling a cigarette nervously. When the agent jokingly asked if Mr. Jung hadn’t quit, the actor replied, “I was giving it to him,” and passed the cigarette to the person next to him.
That was the truth, then. No matter how he tried to hide it, Mr. Jung also was suffering from withdrawal symptoms. I wasn’t alone.
On the 11th day Mr. Jung and I went back to the cancer center at Ilsan. This time both figures from the lung and urine test came out zero, suggesting that Mr. Jung indeed had survived the 10 days without smoking.
Departing with a firm handshake, Mr. Jung said he would try another month.
Several weeks later, sucking a candy in my mouth, I called Mr. Jung and asked how it was going.
“It’s still tolerable,” the actor replied.
Yes, it’s true what someone said. “Quitting smoking is impossible. It is only possible to restrain the urge for the rest of your life.”
Listen to the little ones, and save your health
For smokers, the word “quit” appears automatically every New Year atop the resolution list. But those who enjoy a smoke know how hard it is to quit. Lee Hwa-Duk joined the quitters this month.
At age 43, his health is still respectable but other forces have forced him to take the long and painful road of abstinence from tobacco. His three daughters have taken it upon themselves to make their father give up his habit. Almost every day, the eldest, Lee Su-bin, 17, has written a letter to him begging him to quit. Middle daughter Lee Yae-bin, 13, put a family photo on the outside of the cigarette box so that whenever Daddy thinks of copping a butt he’ll have to face his family first.
Lee Bo-bae, 6, the youngest, has taken the most drastic step of all ― she has declared a kiss strike against her beloved daddy.
The combined efforts of the three daughters went on for half a year before Mr. Lee finally waved the white flag and promised to kick the habit. Needless to say, behind the concerted daughterly efforts, their mother, Hwang Kyeong-suk, 43, provided the necessary strategic guidance.
The war on smoking is waged on many fronts. All the students at Bonghwa Elementary School, South Jeolla province, have urged their smoking parents to quit. They posted anti-smoking notices on apartment block walls and slipped little notes saying, “Quit smoking” into parental pockets. Over the past two years, the constant agitation by the youngsters has helped 169 parents to get clean. The grinning headmaster Park Chun-seok, 53, says he could hardly imagine any parent refusing a wish made by his children.
Some who didn’t listen in earlier years to the pleas of their loved ones are sorry now.
“My daughter is now a college student. She told me to quit when she was in elementary school. I should have listened to her,” says Park Sae-yang, 50, who has problems breathing and has been diagnosed with emphysema.
Mr. Park, who operates a PC-bang, or Internet cafe, has made it a point to make his workplace smoke-free. After he prohibited smoking, he says, sales dropped by 30 percent. But he, his employees and his customers, Mr. Park says, are no longer willing to run the risks of smoking.
Life without the weed: How long, O how long?
1. Slept well. Since I have quit smoking several times, the urge to give up the struggle is familiar. In the first try, my entire body became swollen.
2. My wife tells me I look depressed. No wonder. A big joy in my life has been taken from me.
3. Went hiking up a mountain alone. The air is so clean. If only I had a cigarette in my mouth. But I’ve not been smoking for a few days and already I feel I am not out of breath as easily.
4. I was all right until now. Suddenly, I have this overwhelming urge to smoke. Health is critical, but must I go through this agony?
5. Spent entire day in public engagements. My colleagues (actors, film staff) all smoke and that is making this extremely difficult for me to bear.
6. Last night, while drinking, I took a puff. This was the root of evil. I feel more distressed today.
7. I came to the movie set in Buyeo to shoot the new flick, “Hwang-sanbeol.” A couple of years ago, it took forever to memorize two lines but I find it easier this time around.
8. Spent the entire day filming with 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of attire on me. Late at night, had a glass of beer. I tried incredibly hard not to give in to temptation.
9. Photo shoot for the movie poster began. The makeup artists tell me my facial features have gotten better.
10.I will be heading to the hospital tomorrow. Wonder what the results will be like. I don’t think I’ll turn down another attempt at quitting smoking.
by Kim Sun-ha