The hardest thing I've ever done is give up cigarettes. I was addicted for 11 years as an adult, and I enjoyed feeding this deadly habit. It also fit the stereotype of my chosen profession as a newspaper journalist.

Even as young as 13 or 14, I found smoking alluring and would occasionally steal a cigarette from a relative's pack. As an older teen, I started hanging around with friends whose parents allowed them to smoke.

In college, I started to keep a pack with me at all times. Smoking made my car and clothes stink, and it was expensive. But it was my habit, and it defined me in a sense.

When I was 29, my wife and I decided to have our first child, and I simply didn't want to smoke around our baby. My wife had endured years of secondhand smoke and rarely complained.

I had grown tired of how the habit had taken over my life. I smoked everywhere -- while working, driving, watching television. I knew it was bad when I started having a cigarette before breakfast and one while I shaved.

I decided one Saturday to see how long I could go without a cigarette -- it will be 17 years this September. I was helped immeasurably by using Nicorette gum, only available by prescription in 1985. I stayed on the gum for six months.

Sure, I gained weight, but I had always been too thin. I upped my caffeine intake considerably to try and replace that nicotine kick. I don't know where the thousands of dollars I've saved have gone. And I still could suffer the ill effects of smoking one to two packs of menthol cigarettes a day for more than a decade.

But what I realize now is that I helped my wife and my children more than anyone.

A stream of studies has shown secondhand smoke to be as bad as smoking. Some suggest it could be worse for the nonsmoker than for the smoker because of the chemical interaction with the air.

Last Sunday, the editorial board of this newspaper urged Valdosta City Council to lead the way in South Georgia in enacting a ban on cigarette smoking in restaurants. So far, no one on Council has told us he would be taking up this controversial cause.

But a majority of our board's members felt this was an important topic that should not be ignored in a city that is quickly becoming more cosmopolitan. Restaurant owners might believe this would hurt business. We think it would help. How many people with children or adults with breathing difficulties now avoid eateries that allow smoking?

Last Monday, the morning after the editorial appeared, a man came to the office to tell me about a campaign some Valdostans waged a few years ago to ban smoking. He's interested in hearing from others who would like to take up this cause again. It's one worth fighting for.

In recent months, two close friends of my parents have died. Each had protracted illnesses related to lifetimes of smoking.

One had cancer that kept spreading from one part of her body to another. She was 74 when she died. The other had emphysema for years and died at 72.

Even if you don't want the extra years of life that usually come with quitting cigarettes, why do something that could cause an agonizing death?

Ron Wayne is editor of The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at 244-3400, ext. 229, or

e-mailed at ron.wayne

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