My Own Cigarette Story


My Own Cigarette Story

  • By Ian Bradley
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After being appointed at a relatively young age as Chief Psychologist at the large university teaching hospital in Montreal, I was inundated with myriad heavy-duty tasks such as developing a program for chronic schizophrenic patients, revamping our computerized assessment operations, developing behavioural medicine modules for various hospital departments.


However, I had one graduate student intern with an interest in smoking cessation, so I worked with him to develop a program that we could run both to generate some departmental revenue and to laisse with the Pulmonary division of the hospital. I really enjoyed putting the program together since we did a lot of fun things like motivating people with scary pictures of cancerous lungs, switching them to progressively lighter and lighter cigarettes, as well as imagining a smoke free life in the future.


In the course of the program, I almost got kicked out of my golf course because I kept on stealing those small little pencils.  They were needed because we asked the participants to classify each cigarette they smoked as to its psychological function; “was it a stress reliever?”  “was it to celebrate completion of a task?” etc.   We printed small paper recording forms to each package and needed a corresponding small pencil. I stole tons.


As I said, I viewed the program as kind of a fun diversion from the heavy-duty stuff. However, at the same time I was worried since I was hired for the chief job because of my training in what was at that time was an upstart therapy competing against traditional psychoanalysis – something called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Although CBT is now mainstream, in this early era, it was viewed as addressing only superficial symptoms and its proponents were seen as somewhat as mental lightweights.  So, I kept the CBT laden smoking cessation program in the background.


Two years later, I happened to do something I rarely did – eat in the hospital cafeteria.  I rarely eat there since my traditional eating place was on the street walking to the gym to play squash.  But that day,I was at eating alone in the cafeteria – and just to illustrate how long ago it was, there was a special section of the cafeteria reserved just for physicians.  Can you image!


I was sitting there when I saw a scrubs-attired guy approach my table with a funny look.  I soon recognized him as The Physician at the hospital -someone with family pedigree at the hospital as well as international reputation for teaching and research. I thought for a moment that he was going to chastise me as a mere psychologist for sitting in the physician section but when he sat down briefly, his words were something to the effect of “thank you.”


Turns out that he had a twenty-year old daughter who had smoked since teenage years and who had joined one of our cessation programs and successfully quit.  He told me something that I have never heard in my life, something to the effect that I had saved her life.  He said these words with rather wet eyes and then left.


The episode suddenly changed my view of the therapeutic return of my various activities.