Eddiy Hilliard came to me as a volunteer designer during the Nebraska Aids Project (NAP) Fashion Condom Show. I had a newly crowned Smokeless Diva and a desire to flaunt her in all her elegance on the NAP runway. Eddiy readily agreed to be a designer when a mutual friend recommended him. He was direct from the start, “I am a smoker”, he said, “ but I want to help because I think it’s important for people to know that it’s not good for you and that, if possible, they shouldn’t even start .”
True to his word, Eddiy put in long hours and made a beautiful design that represented Mother Nature’s beauty being destroyed by tobacco. He helped with the concept and made a dying, yet beautiful, tree out of Tygra, our Smokeless Diva 2013.
You see, I love Eddiy Hilliard to pieces for two reasons. First, he’s honest. There is not one mean bone on his body. Second, he shares his gifts by committing his volunteer time to tobacco awareness in this project. Tobacco has been a villain and an active player throughout Eddiy’s life. His advocacy work is commendable because of his struggle with tobacco, which has shaped his perspective and a lifestyle that works for him. Here is his story:
Growing up, everyone smoked, chewed, or both. My parents and grandparents smoked. Everywhere you went there was smoke, and there was no escaping it. I thought it was gross and I wanted nothing to do with it. Then I moved out…
It turns out; I was an addicted “secondhand smoker”. When away from home, I craved nicotine at age 21. I lived alone and there was no one around me to puff smoke on my face. The only place I didn’t have a problem finding it was at bars. Everywhere you went someone had a drink on one hand and a cigarette on the other, that is where I got my fix.
I still missed having the smoke at home. One day I had a craving and just went for it. I went to a store planning to buy something to eat. I found myself having a choice between eating or smoking. I only had money to choose one. The craving for nicotine was higher.
You see, when you are inhaling secondhand smoke you are smoking just as much, if not more of the nicotine than the person smoking. Smokers have the filter at the end of the cigarette, while secondhand smokers don’t. Secondhand smokers can inhale smoke 2 -3 cigarettes at a time, depending on how many people are smoking around you.
Economically, I always found a way to buy my cigarettes and cut corners to afford smoking. I became a vegetarian for 3 years in order to afford smoking- it wasn’t a bad choice, becoming vegetarian, but it was greatly influenced by the control tobacco had over me.
It’s true, I’ve had a love-hate with my cigarettes. I feel like I can take it or leave it now. I have worked to adapt a frame of mind where I don’t have to have it. I have gone months without one at times. I have, like with anything, an occasional craving.
The way I think of it is this: I try to stay away from cigarettes that have too much additives. In a way, I rationalize smoking because I am consciously staying away from heavily produced, chemically enhanced, tobacco products; having picked, what I think, the better alternative.
I feel I have worked away from the control tobacco had on me. For example, I love the first couple of drags when I smoke, and by the time I am reaching the end of the cigarette, I get sick of it. At times, I throw away half a pack just having lost the craving or need. I have come a long way by training myself to stay away from smoking as long as I can.
Just because I still smoke, does not mean I think it’s okay for anyone to begin. If you never had it, keep it that way and stay away; that includes secondhand smoke.
If I am around other smokers, I am going to smoke, especially if there is alcohol. If I don’t have a cigarette, it’s as if there is something missing when I drink. Those old triggers are still there.
I stopped smoking heavily because I have seen what tobacco has done to my family and I don’t want to have to go through the same things. I didn’t want to be controlled, so I rather control it-my cigarettes.
I had an uncle that died of emphysema, my great grandfather from complications of being a pipe smoker; great grandma died, likely from secondhand smoke, even though she wasn’t a smoker. My dad’s mother also died of emphysema.
My family plays a part in my decision to volunteer in tobacco awareness work. I feel people should be informed and make their own decision not to smoke.
These days everyone knows what the dangers are. The way I see it, people have the right to control their decisions and environments. So, why let tobacco control your life if no one else should? I think this: simply stop or smoke-less in order to control ‘it’.
I desire a healthier life. If I got sick, I don’t have an immediate person that I feel would be there constantly. And no one should. If you choose to be destructive with your health, it’s bull s*^# to have someone take care of you when you are making those bad decisions. Why ruin someone else’s life?
Having a part in designing a dress for MOTAC during the condom fashion show was a good experience. I had a part in forming consciousness with my design, reaching my community. Really, I prefer this type of advocacy, it beats handing out paper (information) that will just end up in the trash.
I feel good about my contribution in designing a dress; it’s worthwhile and not hypocritical, since I knew I was still going to have an occasional cigarette as it’s been such a big part of my life.
Now I smoke in moderation. I smoke like a pack every 5 weeks. People shouldn’t feel like if they aren’t adhering right away to cessation, they are a failure.
It’s better to know the behaviors behind smoking, and work on those as you make steps in smoking-less and maybe one day completely.