Originally published Aug. 25, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted with permission.
By David Heitz
Even when you’re one of Hollywood’s hottest performers, smoking just ain’t sexy.
That may be why so many celebrities are closet smokers. That, and by now everyone should know better. Celebrities know that, too.
“A lot of people in Hollywood who use their voice and their body smoke,” said Mark Ballas of “Dancing with the Stars” fame in a telephone interview with me on Monday. “But I think that when you’re a smoker, subconsciously you know that what you’re doing is wrong. At some point I said, ‘I really need to stop now. This is getting ridiculous.’”
It wasn’t image that compelled Ballas to finally quit – it was his health. “It got to where
I was knocking out 20 (cigarettes) a day,” he said. “One day, I was in class, and I was running out of steam. It was affecting my breathing. That was a wake-up call, because
I need my body, being a performer, dancing and singing and doing what I do. I’m on stage all the time, and I need to feel good.”\
When I quit in February 2013, I had a similar epiphany. I had become completely disgusted with myself.
Lighting up and fitting in as a U.K. teen
Ballas said he started lighting up at 16. “Cigarettes are super accessible (in Great Britain). My friends smoked, and so I picked up the habit at a young age. You think, ‘I’m invincible. It’s not going to affect me.’”
He said he tried to quit many times once he knew he had had enough, beginning at about the age of 25 or 26. But nothing worked. “I would smoke a little less, but I always came back to it.”
Finally, he tried NicoDerm CQ, and it worked for him. “I liked the patch because I’m dancing all day, and I didn’t want to think about it.”
Ballas said he declined to even consider being a spokesman for NicoDerm until he knew for sure that the product worked. “And it did work for me, so I decided I wanted to be an advocate and help other people.”
Also joining the telephone conversation Monday was Mark’s mom Shirley. Shirley is a dancing legend in her own right, who smoked for four decades. Ballas was raised by his mother and grandmother, and smoke was everywhere.
“I’ve had a special relationship with Mark for many years, and I saw him trying, so I said, ‘Let’s do it together,’” Shirley explained. She chose Nicorette to quit. “I tried the gum, because it keeps your breath fresh and I like the taste of it. It worked for me.”
Quit in September: It’s all about you
Mark and Shirley are encouraging everyone to participate in what they’re calling SELFtember. What is SELFtember all about? “We’re coming out of vacation mode, coming out of summer. It’s time to get back to the gym, time to start work and school. It’s time to snap back to reality,” Mark Ballas said.
“We want people to be inspired to live a healthier lifestyle,” he continued. “In the summer, maybe you were smoking more than usual because you had more free time. Let SELFtember be a catalyst to quit, a catalyst for living a healthier lifestyle.”
Shirley also plugged an idea she calls “What’s Your Why?” The What’s Your Why? ™ campaign asks smokers to share their motivational reasons for wanting to quit smoking. It helps a smoker envision what the future could hold when he or she succeeds. It puts the quitter’s goals front and center, whether they’re big dreams or little victories.
Mark and being around to spend time with her grandchildren are Shirley’s whys, she said. You can learn more about a day-long event being held at Santa Monica Pier in Southern California, where smoking cessation aids will be handed out free.
Save your cigarette money, buy a house in Beverly Hills
Being smoke-free is being good to Mark, who hopes to have a career as successful as Jared Leto’s. He admires Leto, an actor, singer, song writer and director best known for his role as Jordan Catalano on the television hit “My So-Called Life.”
“Jared Leto has had an amazing acting career, he’s had his band … back in the day, artists like Michael Jackson did more than just one thing,” Mark Ballas said. ”It’s OK to do more than one thing. I don’t like people to get pigeon-holed.”
Ballas also has a band, has written songs, has starred on Broadway and now has a new business venture. Ballas just opened his first dance studio, Mark Ballas Dance and Performing Arts, in North Carolina and hopes to open nine more by year’s end. His debut single, “Get My Name,” rose to No. 24 on the iTunes Pop Chart. A whopping 20 million viewers a week tune in to watch him on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”
Has being smoke-free added to his amazing success?
“I feel like quitting has been a big help to my focus and my mental capacity and for targeting goals and reaching them,” Ballas said. “It’s great not to be wheezing and coughing. I feel way better. I do feel a huge difference, plus I was burning money with a terrible habit.”
That saved cigarette money adds up. He made headlines earlier this week for his purchase of a $2.52 million “fixer-upper” in L.A.’s esteemed Beverly Crest neighborhood.
He says if he can quit smoking, anyone can. “It’s OK to be outside your comfort zone. If I can do it, anyone can do it. You’ve got to have the balls to do it.”