NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt Jr. details long journey to quitting smoking

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR - Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. discussed his journey to quitting smoking and an exciting partnership he has announced to help others do the same.

Former NASCAR Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who used to be a full-time smoker, recently spoke to Beyond the Flag about his journey to breaking that bad habit and quitting altogether, which included several setbacks along the way.

But Earnhardt isn’t only interested in sharing his story for the purpose of sharing his story. He is interested in sharing his story so that others feel that they, too, can quit smoking.

That’s why he is partnering with Nicorette, the brand name of a number of products for nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) that contain nicotine to help smokers quit.

The 15-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver Award winner and Nicorette are launching the #StartStoppingShoutOut campaign to encourage smokers to start stopping and to support them along their quit journey.

Beginning today, anybody, not just smokers, can visit and tell Earnhardt and Nicorette about the loved one they want to quit smoking and why for a chance to win a shout out from Earnhardt or another celebrity to encourage them to start stopping.

We recently spoke to Earnhardt about this campaign, and he also discussed his journey to getting where he is today with this bad habit behind him.

“The#StartStoppingShoutOut campaign, you can use the hashtag #StartStoppingShoutOut campaign, and tell us about a loved one that you want to quit smoking,” Earnhardt told Beyond the Flag. “You could win a chance to get a shoutout from me or another celebrity encouraging them to stop.

“I think that when I tried to quit smoking, one of the most important parts of that process is when you have some support from, whether it’s friends or loved ones that are trying to help you. People that just tell you, ‘Look, man, I really want you to make this decision, I care about your health, I don’t like your smoking.’

“That’s a real critical part in fortifying someone’s commitment to making that choice because what we do is, we wake up one day and go, ‘You know, I really want to stop this. I feel terrible’, or ‘I’m tired of the smell’, there’s so many reasons why you want to quit. And you get down the road and you start to have a hard time justifying the decision to quit.

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“You start to make excuses. ‘Man, I can quit tomorrow’ or ‘I’m stressed out and I need to have a cigarette’ or ‘I’m out with my friends drinking and they’re smoking and I want to smoke too’ and ‘Maybe I’ll just put this off, I’ll put quitting off, to another time.’

“So when you have somebody that supports you or is understanding that you’re wanting to quit and is not nagging you but supporting what you’re doing, that can be a really, really important component.

“Like I said, I like to use the word fortify, it kind of strengthens your resolve to stay with it, stay the course. That #StartStoppingShoutOut program that Nicorette has is a great way for people to support their loved ones that they want to see stop smoking. They probably know that this person also wants to quit, they just need that additional support and help to do that.

“I quit smoking a long time ago, but also had friends and loved ones that I wanted to quit as well, and I try to support them and try to help them understand why they need to make that decision and how they can go about doing that, and this is probably a great step for someone to get started to support their loved one to quit.”

This isn’t the first time Earnhardt and Nicorette have had the opportunity to work together.

“We’ve been working together for a couple years,” Earnhardt continued. “It’s been a great partnership. I like to work with brands where I feel like I have some experience, so having been a smoker in the past, knowing how hard it is to quit, knowing how many times I failed and how challenging that commitment can be, I felt like it would be a fun challenge.

“And it’s also a personal thing. A lot of people don’t like to admit that they smoked. Maybe you’re even ashamed of it. I think coming out and saying, ‘Look man, I smoked’, I hid it from everybody, my own father and friends and I tried to hide it from as many people as I could because I knew it was a bad habit and I didn’t want people to think badly of me.

“But I think at this point now being so far removed from it and thinking, ‘Man, now I got a chance to try to convince someone to quit’, knowing how that important that choice is for their own health, I jumped at the opportunity to partner with Nicorette.

“They have the same commitment to try to help people quit smoking and stop smoking, and I think that I was open to sharing my own story about my quit journey to try to hopefully, even if it just convinces one person to make that choice, that’ll be great for them I know. It’s been fun. I don’t know how many people we’ve helped stop smoking. I hope that it’s a lot. And I hope sharing my own story has helped someone stay committed to that choice.”

He discussed how hard it was for him to stop.

“It was really hard,” he admitted. “When you’re young, you feel like you can get away with a lot more or that you have time to — ‘I’m young, I can quit this later, and the detriment to my health won’t be severe, because…’ — you justify it in so many ways.

“It became a partner, smoking became a partner, to a lot of activities — playing video games. If I sat down to play video games, I had to smoke, and it was one after the other. When I first started smoking, it was just at a bar drinking. That was it. I would never smoke anywhere else.

“Then it became, I’ll have a cigarette driving home. I didn’t want to smoke in my own car, but I started smoking in my own car. Next thing you know, I’m smoking driving everywhere and trying to mask the smell of the smoke to keep my friends and family from smelling it, and maybe they did and we just didn’t talk about it. It was just this awkward thing. And I didn’t know whether my clothes smelled or if it was obvious that I was a smoker or not.

“You got all these things going on that non-smokers don’t have to worry about, a lot of anxieties and concerns about how your smoking may be affecting the other people in your life. But again, then I started smoking playing video games, I started smoking in my own house instead of outside the house. It just started infiltrating every part of my life to where I was a full-time smoker smoking about a pack and a half a day.

“It was really hard to quit, and I would wake up one day after a party smoking a ton of cigarettes the night before and go, ‘I feel terrible, I feel awful, I’m going to quit. This is it. I need to stop.’ You’ll go a couple days, go out with your friends or do whatever it is that’s going to trigger you, and you’ll say, ‘I’ll just put it off and I’ll quit next week, I’ll quit tomorrow. It’s not going to hurt me to have a few,’ or whatever, and you’re back to smoking again.

“I did that multiple times before I finally made that personal commitment. I was getting married, I was actually in a really positive relationship. I ended up marrying my wife, and it was a big problem for her, and she would communicate that with me and talk to me about why I needed to stop and why it was important for us and me.

“That sort of constructive criticism and support was probably what I needed to push me in that right direction to make that decision and stick with it and stay committed with it. It was really hard though.”

Earnhardt emphasized Nicorette and the role they have played and can play in helping others quit, something he didn’t have access to throughout his quit journey.

“I didn’t have products like Nicorette to assist me in that quit journey,” he said. “Had they been around or had I been partnered with Nicorette back then, it would have been a lot easier to quit, I’m sure.

“But eventually it stuck and I don’t know what the length of time is, it’s different for a lot of people, but once I got to a certain space like three or six months out, I felt like I was never going back.”

But he can’t emphasize the importance of quitting enough.

“I know that smoking cigarettes and quitting smoking and all that stuff, we sort of gloss over it and talk about it like it’s just a bad habit like eating too much candy or drinking sodas all day long and never putting anything good in your body,” he continued.

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“But it will kill you, and it will give you a lot of very, very challenging health issues down the road, and so I was so thankful that I got free of that addiction and I was just selfishly thankful for myself for so many years, but then when we got to talking to Nicorette, I was thinking, ‘Man, this is maybe a great opportunity for me to share my story and try to help some other people.'”