‘Just shut up and do it’ -- One man’s victory over smoking

Andrea Miller

Few people look forward to tax day, but this year Michael Mulvena truly did. Once a four-pack a day smoker, April 15 was the first anniversary of the day he kicked the habit.

After 37 years of smoking, it wasn’t easy, but if there’s anything Mulvena wants other smokers to know, it is this: In every way, life is better without cigarettes.

He also wants them to hear his story so they will know they can do it, too. The key is just finding the courage to try.

Cigarette smoking is responsible for 440,000 U.S. deaths each year, and 8,600,000 chronic illnesses, according to the American Lung Association. However, quitting can slow and possibly reverse many of smoking’s damaging effects.

The 55-year-old Newark, Del., man had been a smoker since high school, and he never thought he would quit. But something clicked last spring when his doctor suggested a medical aid to help him stop. It wasn’t the offer that galvanized Mulvena’s will, but the sudden realization that “I couldn’t even admit to him that I didn’t have the guts to try.” 

It was a standoff between him and the cigarettes. Mulvena knew what had been winning and who he wanted to win, so he set a date for the showdown.

The night before April 15, he dropped two unopened packs of Marlboros and another with nine cigarettes left on top of the kitchen microwave.

The next morning, he looked at them and asked himself, “What are you going to do?” The answer, “Today, I’m not going to smoke.”    

He kept his word that day, so the next morning he told the cigarettes the same thing. On the third day, he vowed 10 days. That’s how it was in the beginning: He couldn’t say “never again” just yet, so he set goals he could keep. Some days the cravings were maddening, but it was a matter of who was going to win -- the cigarettes or him.

By the end of 30 days, Mulvena was sick of struggling. He briefly flirted with the idea of going for a smoke one afternoon, but instead of giving in, he returned to the cigarettes on the microwave and told them he was done complaining and feeling sorry for himself. 

“Just shut up and do it,” he said – and vowed 100 days.

Like many smokers who quit, Mulvena was gaining weight, so he decided to take up a new addiction: power walking. Exercise had always been a dirty word, but the 2.6 miles he ran exhilarated him, and soon Mulvena was challenging himself to shave seconds off the daily 38-minute trek.

By 100 days, feeling healthy, in control and victorious, Mulvena knew he was ready for the big promise of “never again.” The rest has been smooth sailing, he says.

Mulvena says he is proud of his achievement, confident of his future and ready to help others do the same.

“If one person reads this and has the guts to try, I’ll be so happy,” he says.

Community Publications (Delaware)


Resources to help kick the smoking habit:

- American Heart Association

Instant-message with a counselor, find the latest research studies

- American Lung Association

Information, resources, research and legislation

- American Cancer Society

Studies, resources and a quiz that matches your smoking style to a cessation plan


Preparing to quit smoking:

- Write down why you want to quit. Post where you’ll see it.

- Build a support network: If a family member, friend or co-worker smokes, ask them to quit, too, or refrain when they’re around you.

- Do your homework: Find one or more methods you will use. Studies show that when you try two at once (like the patch and a cessation class), you are more likely to succeed.

- Set a "Quit Day."

- On Quit Day, throw out cigarettes, lighters and ashtrays. Get your teeth cleaned to enjoy a fresh smile.

Beyond Quit Day:

- Calculate how much you used to spend on cigarettes, set that money aside, and on your cessation anniversary, buy a reward. (It could be a lot: an average smoker spends $1,000 annually on cigarettes.)

- Make new habits: Notice what triggers a light-up and avoid it. Example: If you smoked when drinking, avoid alcohol while you're quitting.

- Make a clean sweep: Air out drapes, furniture and car.

- Get a fix for your oral fixation: You may want to eat more as you quit. The cravings won't last forever. In the meantime, drink water, chew gum and keep something handy to replace the cigarette in your fingers.

- Get a new addiction: exercise. Walk, swim, cycle, try a new sport or any fun activity your physician approves.

- Learn meditation, visualization or progressive muscle relaxation to help overcome smoking urges, or distract yourself with a fun activity. 

Things to remember

- Nicotine is addicting, so you will have withdrawal symptoms like nervousness, irritability, temporary depression, dry mouth or cough. They will go away in a few weeks.

- If you slip, you are not a failure. Take one day at a time, and tell yourself you will quit again tomorrow. Keep track of success days on a calendar. Studies show the more often a smoker tries to quit, the more likely the success.