Dustin Sherman tried to quit smoking three times.
“I always used the New York State Quitline every time I quit smoking,” said the sales manager at Hartleys Auto & RV Center in Polkville.
But this last time, the Cortland man, 36, put a plan into place.
“It takes trying and several tries. The most important thing to quitting smoking is continuing to try,” said Paula Celestino, director of client relations and outreach at the NYS Smokers Quitline.
This is a powerful addiction that usually has been going on for decades, 15 to 40 years, she said. Each time smokers quit, they learn a new, helpful technique. And in the meantime, they can tap into the support of coaches at the Quitline and free nicotine patches and lozenges.
Make 2021 your year This can be the year to quit using tobacco and vaping products, Quitline officials say. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials add that those who smoke suffer more severe effects if infected with coronavirus.
Sherman stopped smoking June 12, 2017. He was a daily smoker since he was 15, a pack a day, two packs a day at his worst.
“I had a few older friends that smoked. I could always get cigarettes from them,” he said. “I always worked as a kid.”
And he had jobs that were conducive to smoking — loading tires, owning his own shop.
Sherman smoked before and after meals, any time he had a break, after a 40-minute period without a cigarette.
“I could make any excuse to go smoke a cigarette,” Sherman said. “In the beginning, I loved it. I thought it was a cool thing. When I was 23 or 24, I realized I hated it.”
The first two times he tried to quit, he was doing it for other people. He’d call the New York State Quitline and get their nicotine patches and lozenges.
“I didn’t commit,” he said. “I didn’t make a plan.”
Celestino said smokers don’t usually succeed the first time they try to quit.
“It takes a while to get there. The doctor tells them to quit. The family tells them to quit,” she said.
“This is not easy. These folks are just heroes in committing to trying … They lack confidence. They’ve tried so many times to quit and have failed.”
The problem is they start to believe they can’t do it, she said. People who have smoked for a long time, every day, feel like quitting smoking is losing a friend.
They need to think about the benefits of not smoking, she said. What are you going to get from not smoking?
Before Sherman’s third attempt, he was getting serious about working out. He was a serious runner. But he couldn’t get better.
“I hit a stand still,” he said.
He was outside his apartment, after a workout, still in his tank top, smoking a cigarette, when a fellow rode up the street on his bicycle, picking up garbage. The two exchanged hellos.
Bentley tells his story
Doug Bentley of Cortland saw Sherman smoking and made a bee-line for him, he said.
The retired engineer quit smoking in 1996, but later had two bouts of cancer. The last was cancer of the tongue.
Bentley smoked for 28 years, starting because it looked cool. He tried quitting four times.
Five years after success, Bentley had cancer on a tonsil. Surgery removed the tumor and he had 33 radiation treatments to follow.
In 2016, he had cancer on his tongue. More surgery followed and doctors at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester cut out half of his tongue and replaced it with a piece of his wrist.
“My arm is still trying to figure out how to be a tongue,” Bentley joked.
But he can’t have a set of bottom teeth after this last procedure.
When he got home from the hospital, he started approaching smokers.
“I have to tell you about my tongue,” he’d say.
Open to suggestion
Sherman was willing to listen. “It was not like a non-smoker telling me. It was: ‘I was a smoker and this is what happened to me.’”
At the end of Bentley’s talk, the engineer said, “So Dustin, have you thought about quitting?”
Sherman said. “Yes!”
“At that point, I wanted to quit,” Sherman said. “I was breathing heavily. It was time consuming, it was expensive and it was smelly.”
The talk with Bentley ignited him. He sat down with pen and paper and figured out how he’d proceed.
“I made myself accountable. I told family and friends. I called the NYS Quit Line. I had them send me their lozenges and patches.”
He waited two weeks, until he had the nicotine replacement therapy and his support system in place.
In the meantime, Bentley and Seven Valleys Health Coalition, which works for healthy behavior, put out a stop-smoking challenge to Sherman. He’d blog for the non-profit, writing about his challenges, when he was mad, upset or craving. “I would go online and post about it.”
And he wasn’t a perfect smoke free angel the first six months. He’d take a puff here, a half a drag there.
“I slipped up a few times,” Sherman said.
But he never smoked a full cigarette after his June quit date. Six months later, he had no more slip-ups.
The NY State Quitline would call at the 30-day mark and at the three-month mark. They were happy he made it that far.
“And Doug Bentley would send me messages every three, four days, hooked me up with other people that quit, hooked me up with a doctor who had information,” Sherman said. “I went out to Olympia Sports one day. A lady said, ‘Hey aren’t you the guy who quit smoking?”
Life is good
His life has been good.
He’s enjoying fitness. He’s the founder of Join the Movement Ruck Club, and he comes up with challenges to get people out walking while carrying weight.
He takes part in rucking and other physical challenges. He exercises daily.
“Here and there I will look at a cigarette and think, ‘Oh, I still smoke.’ But I don’t have those cravings,” Sherman said. “I’m not anxious. I don’t get fidgety.”
He’d advise others considering quitting smoking:
“Don’t wait till tomorrow. Plan ahead. Reach out to others.”