Give mom a cigarette break

They may say they’re going out for milk, but secret smokers go to great lengths to feed their habit
Rebecca Eckler
Give mom a cigarette break
Photograph by Jenna Marie Wakani

The first rule of the Secret Smokers Mother’s Club is that you don’t talk about the Secret Smokers Mother’s Club. At least you don’t talk about it to anyone who is a non-smoker and especially to mothers who are non-smokers.

Like Alcoholics Anonymous, none of the mothers who secretly smoke are willing to share their names. It makes sense, since many of them have kept their secret for years. “I never smoke in front of my kids. Never. No one in my life knows I smoke, except for one person and that is my husband. But no one else,” says one member.

According to reports, one in two smokers hides their habit from friends, family and colleagues. And, boy, do these women go to great lengths to keep this secret from their children. “If Noah is watching television and my husband is with him, I’ll take out the garbage, then run around the house and hide in the bushes, because I don’t even want my neighbours to see that I’m a mother who smokes. I feel disgusting about it,” she admits.

But that hasn’t stopped her from smoking, even after two children, and she has no plans to quit. “Because you know people judge smokers anyways, but mothers who smoke? To non-smokers, they’d consider that worth stoning me.”

Club members end up doing a lot of unnecessary chores to get their fix. “I’ll run out to the all-night grocery store,” says one mother. “I’ll tell my husband we’re out of milk, but usually we are anyway. And this store is not close. I don’t go to the store near my house, because I worry I’ll run into people I know. I go to another grocery store that takes me about 30 minutes to get there, so I get a couple of cigarettes in before I go back home.”

But do they notice the smell? These mothers resort to more subterfuge to mask the lingering aroma of smoke. “As soon as I come back from smoking, I wash my hands, my chest, I brush my teeth, and I have clean shirts all over the house, so I can immediately change into one of them,” says one mother.

Another member’s purse could be mistaken for an Avon lady’s kit because she has so many supplies. “I keep a small tube of toothpaste and toothbrush. I have a big bottle of body lotion that smells like vanilla. I have face cream that I rub all over my face. And I have a body spray from Victoria’s Secret that I spray in my hair and all over my clothes.”

This mother also got a great tip from a makeup-artist friend who sometimes smokes. She now carries around Downy April Fresh or Bounce sheets meant for the dryer. “I rub it on my hair and it works amazingly well. Also, they are really small to carry around, which makes it easier.”

If it takes so much energy to keep smoking a secret, why not just quit? These women know the health risks and they have children they’d like to see grow up. “It’s the one last thing of my old life,” explains one. “It’s mine and it’s all mine.” Another adds, “Because I sometimes like to be bad, and as a mother you can’t be bad.”

Then there is the dark side of the addiction. “I really love smoking so much,” says one. “I sometimes find that I’m waiting for my kids to take a nap so I can go smoke. And as awful as this sounds, I’m excited my son will be going to daycare in the afternoons this fall.” Another admits that when she’s having a nicotine fit, she loses her temper with her children more often.

But even though they puff away in secret, they look down on mothers who smoke openly around their children. “When I see a mother smoking, all I can think is, ‘You disgusting wretch,’ ” says one. “When I see a mother smoking and pushing a baby in a stroller, I’m horrified. But who am I to judge? At night, I’m in the bushes putting out my cigarettes in a beer bottle.”