If I’d have hated smoking 6 decades ago, I might not have COPD today

Living with the consequences of being a long-term smoker

Caroline Gainer avatar

by Caroline Gainer |

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If, 58 years ago, I had hated cigarettes as much as I hate them now, I probably wouldn’t have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, that isn’t guaranteed, as two other risk factors likely increased my chances of developing the condition.

The first is that I was born weighing just 4 pounds. Although I stayed in my mother’s belly for close to the proper amount of time, I was considered premature and was in an incubator for several days. According to Pursuit, the University of Melbourne’s media platform, researchers at the university found that preemies are at a 2.9 times higher risk of developing COPD than babies carried to term.

The second risk factor concerned my environment. I lived for 13 years in the Pittsburgh metro area, in a steel mill town surrounded by other steel towns. Coal fueled the furnaces, and the air was heavy with pollution.

I remember that if I wanted to go downtown and shop, I had to wear sunglasses to keep particulate matter produced by the burning of coal from blowing into my eyes. The issue was worse for me because I wore contacts.

If the pollution caused this much of a problem with my eyes, imagine what it was doing to my lungs. Air pollution can cause exacerbations in people with COPD and can be a contributing factor in the disease’s onset, a 2020 article published in the journal Chronic Diseases and Translational Medicine notes.

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The consequences of smoking

In addition to the above issues, I believe I likely have COPD because I started smoking 58 years ago and didn’t stop until 10 years ago. Between the smoking and the pollution, I feel I was pretty much guaranteed to end up developing COPD. If I had hated all of that smoke several decades ago, I might not be on oxygen now.

Living with the consequences of smoking for almost 50 years is hard, but I am grateful every day for my portable oxygen concentrator (POC), which allows me to move around hands-free.

I wear the Inogen POC in a fanny pack or a hip bag so that I can do everything I like to do without being hampered or having to lug around a big oxygen tank. When I put my POC in a backpack, I have problems bending over and pulling weeds, as the backpack tends to slide up, and I end up wearing it around my neck. I have tried many things to resolve the backpack creep, but nothing has proven successful.

If I had hated smoking all those years ago, I also could have saved a lot of money for my retirement. Or, if I didn’t save the money, I could have spent it on education, travel, or other things that would’ve enriched my life.

I wish I’d always had a fervent dislike for tobacco use because smoking exacerbated my comorbidities as well. I can find nothing good to say about the habit.

If you are trying to quit cigarettes or vaping, many great resources are available to help you. The American Lung Association has a section dedicated to kicking the habit. Follow the link to find reasons to quit, ways to quit, and support. The COPD Foundation offers similar information and links to sites that can help those who want to stop smoking. I found success with nicotine patches.

I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I hope that writing about my stupid decision to smoke can help others avoid the same mistake.

Note: COPD News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of COPD News Today or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


David A Sylvester avatar

David A Sylvester

Thanks Caroline. Important message!!👍

Dick Lyda avatar

Dick Lyda

You and I are similar but being on oxygen with tight lungs makes it harder to move
I can blow 97 or even 95 until I stand then it’s around 83 without oxygen
I am told it is progressive weather slow or faster depending on my surroundings
Currently my biggest problem is heat I walk out with oxygen and almost immediately I am in trouble. E careful

Kay Hutkay avatar

Kay Hutkay

If only!!!!!! Words that haunt me today.

Debra L Tessmer avatar

Debra L Tessmer

Thank you for sharing.



Regret every day that I started smoking. I'm 76, on oxygen, go nowhere, don't do nothing. Worked my whole life, my retirement consists of doing nothing. Yes a big pitty party for me, what do I do to make it better, or feel better.

Travis D. Engelage avatar

Travis D. Engelage

The biggest motivator for quitting is your 1st trip to the hospital!

Maureen McNamara avatar

Maureen McNamara

I too regret ever starting smoking. Didn’t smoke until 20 yrs old. I grew up in a smoking family. They didn’t encourage me. My living & working conditions were in a polluted air environment. I stopped at 51 years of age. I’m smoke free for 25 yrs. Diagnosed 18 yrs ago with COPD. 3 liters 24/7. I take it 1 day at a time.
I’m happy to be alive. Don’t get out much but do what I can. I try to keep a positive outlook.


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