For former county official, kicking smoking habit was hard - but worth it

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 1/10/19

Kicking the habit – a perennial goal of many smokers, especially around New Year’s – is indisputably a healthy choice, but for many who try, success can be elusive. Former Chatham County commissioner Mike Cross, 75, is a non-smoker now.

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For former county official, kicking smoking habit was hard - but worth it

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Posted

MONCURE – Kicking the habit – a perennial goal of many smokers, especially around New Year’s – is indisputably a healthy choice, but for many who try, success can be elusive.

No greater authority on the subject than beloved American author Mark Twain, a lifelong tobacco smoker from a young age, quipped that giving up the highly addictive habit was “the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”

Former Chatham County commissioner Mike Cross, 75, is a non-smoker now. But like Twain and scores of other people, he made multiple attempts to quit before he succeeded.

He was raised around tobacco. Cross, whose family grew and processed the cash crop in Chatham and Harnett counties, started smoking as a youngster.

“At about 10 years old, my brother and I visited my granddad and found   some warm beers and cigars in his wood box under the car shelter,” he said. “We of course retrieved one of each and proceeded behind the tobacco barn for a new experience.”

The beer, he recalled, was warm and foamy and the cigars turned both young boys “green.”

“One would think that would have cured us both,” he said. “It didn’t, unfortunately.”

Cross thinks his attachment to smoking may have actually started even earlier.

“I think I may have been addicted by second-hand smoke before I started smoking,” he said. “My mother and my older brother were smokers.”

There were also cultural influences, including seeing movie stars smoking on screen, the high profile of the “Marlboro Man” on billboards and television commercials, and many of his friends smoked.

“Smoking wasn’t openly frowned upon by everyone,” Cross recalled. “Apparently it was quite the social thing to do in some circles.”

Despite that, Cross made the first of many “lame efforts” to quit smoking, beginning when he was a high school student.

His first serious attempt to give up cigarettes was while he was a college student.

“I quit for 18 months while I was in college and started up again during senior exam week in 1967,” Cross said.

In the early 80s, he abstained for a period of time, but Cross, now a U.S. Navy Commander, was still fighting the urge.

“I was actually teaching a class in smoking cessation in the Navy and could hardly wait for class to end, so I could go out the back door and have a cigarette,” he said.

He quit again in 2014 while he was a county commissioner. The board of commissioners was preparing at the time to enact a “no smoking” policy for all county property.

“I couldn’t bring myself to force other staff to not smoke if I wasn’t going to stop with them,” Cross said.

For 18 months, Cross was a non-smoker until he picked the habit back up during a stressful primary election in 2016.

“Apparently my desire to quit wasn’t as strong as my addiction,” he said. “Stress took over. Nicotine is not only very addictive, it can be calming.”

Cross – whose greatest motivation to stop smoking was his health – quit again, this time on New Year’s Day 2017.

He has remained a non-smoker since.

Like many other smokers looking to ease the discomfort of quitting, Cross tried nicotine patches, but had skin reactions.

He also chewed nicotine gum, starting with the stronger (4 mg) pieces and later using the 2 mg pieces until continuing, as he does today, to chew sugar free gum.

Cross’s experiences with trying and failing to quit tobacco use before succeeding gives him some insight into what works and what doesn’t.

He said understanding all the pros and cons of the habit are important to help a smoker “finalize your commitment.”

He also says avoiding other smokers, at least when they’re smoking, is important to success.

“Avoid stress when possible,” he said. “Take breaks. Relax. Take your mind to another subject. The urge will pass in a few minutes.”

Since quitting, Cross said he has experienced many positive changes.

He and his wife, Nancy, both quit and both now “enjoy our new social norm. And the saved money is nice, too.”

And his health has improved. He gives partial credit for that to some adjustment in his diet and switching to decaffeinated coffee, but stopping smoking played a big role, too, he said.

Numerous resources to help smokers quit are available, including QuitlineNC, a free service for adults and teens who may call the Quitline number (1-800 QUITNOW) to be paired with a trained professional to assist with the quit process (all tobacco products, including cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarettes).

The American Lung Association (1-800-LUNG-USA) also offers a free online program for adults. The site (www.ffsonline.org) goes through various modules, each containing several lessons designed to help those choosing to quit to prepare, quit, and stay tobacco-free.

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