I began smoking when I was 16 years old, which turned into a two pack-a-day habit for 30 years. And I wasn’t alone — according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Oklahoma has the sixth-highest adult smoking rate in the U.S., with 22 percent of adults who smoke. On average, I was spending $70 a week on my smoking habit, and for those three decades, I was the one that would speak up for smokers' rights. Every time a new tax was imposed, I swore I would smoke forever, no matter the price of a cigarette pack. After all, smoking wasn’t illegal. I never realized what the ultimate price on my family and health would be.
The catalyst for my change of heart was seeing my mother connected to an oxygen machine 24-hours-a-day, due to emphysema and COPD. I realized right then that I did not want that to be me down the road. I tried many times to quit, with success lasting from six hours to six months.
I finally succeeded in 2009. Quitting was the hardest thing I had ever done, but I had the unconditional support of friends and family who "tolerated” me through it.
In March 2014, I went to the doctor for a minor cough that wouldn’t go away. That minor cough turned out to be Stage 3 NSC lung cancer. When I learned that I had cancer, my immediate thoughts were of my family and instant regret that I hadn't stopped smoking sooner.
My family was my reason to quit, and now they are my reason to fight. What I have learned since that dreadful day is that lung cancer is the top killer in the U.S. One reason it is so deadly is because by the time symptoms appear and is diagnosed, it’s usually in an advanced state. Although smoking and use of tobacco products is a major cause of lung cancer, each year more and more cases are being attributed to non-smokers. Some would say as a smoker I got what I deserved. I would say that no one deserves lung cancer.
My fight with cancer continues, but I am glad to say that I have been in remission since November 2014. Fighting cancer and lung disease has been much more difficult than the withdrawal pains of quitting smoking. Since my diagnosis, I have lost my biological father and one of my best friends from high school to lung cancer. I’ve also lost my mother to advanced lung disease.
Even though I was once the person standing up for a smokers' rights, I now stand for a bill to help decrease the amount of smoking in Oklahoma. Gov. Mary Fallin has proposed a $1.50-a-pack increase to the state’s cigarette tax.
A study by the surgeon general's office found that cigarette taxes deter smoking. And their effectiveness tied directly to how hard they hit smokers' pocketbooks. If the full House and Senate pass Gov. Fallin's proposal, the average cost of a pack of cigarettes in Oklahoma will climb from about $6.50 to $8, a jump of roughly 25 percent. That 25 percent increase would translate to a 10 percent drop in smoking from our current levels, as well as act as a deterrent to keep young adults from starting.
I urge our state’s lawmakers to pass this cigarette tax — it’s a small price to pay to save lives in Oklahoma.
Sandi Jones is vice president of operational standards at BancFirst. She lives in Oklahoma City.