Natasha Lyonne on quitting smoking: ‘the worst decision I ever made’

In the beginning of March, Natasha Lyonne announced she had quit smoking. Well, she didn’t announce it so much as document her searing regret for putting down her cancer sticks with every non-toxic breath she took. The good news is that Natasha has not given up on quitting. The bad news is she still laments the decision. Speaking to People about her Smoke-Free life, she said cutting the smokes is “the worst decision I ever made,” and she’s just waiting for some brainiac to find a “consequence-free” way for her to start up again.

Natasha Lyonne is not exactly embracing her non-smoking journey, but she knows it’s for the best.

Speaking exclusively with PEOPLE on Thursday at the NBC Universal Emmys Kick-Off Luncheon, the Poker Face actress and longtime smoker, 44, gave an update on how she’s doing after quitting cigarettes — admitting it’s been “a nightmare.”

“I’ll be honest. It’s the worst decision I ever made,” she teases. “Of course, my true and deep hope is that the technology will get there such that I’m able to smoke again consequence-free since it’s one of the great loves of my life.”

Still, Lyonne stands by her choice, especially taking into account the health risks associated with smoking.

“As a destructive person, it really is like committing in a way I cannot deny to signing up for life completely,” Lyonne says, noting what drove her to the decision. “Like, it was the final gap between, me sort of saying I’m gonna be a participating member of society and really going all the way in. And I think a lot of it has to do with like I just feel like, you know, I still wanna write and direct movies. I still wanna get to make more seasons of Poker Face. I wanna get to have more life. And I think I was genuinely just scared by like the reality of it.”

[From People]

“It’s one of the great loves of my life,” I know this reads as a joke, but it really isn’t. It explains so much, too. We’ve seen those videos of people inhaling through their tracheostomy tube and wonder how they can’t see the issue. Smokers are in an abusive relationship with smoking. I always say when we talk about it, I would start up again the minute Natasha’s consequence-free wish comes true. And remember, I officially quit 20 years ago this year. Not everyone has this problem, some people stop smoking and never look back. For the record, I wish I was one of those people. I don’t glamorize smoking and impart all of its ills to my kids. Natasha is only about two months into her non-smoking journey so she’s in a particularly vulnerable place. I’m glad she’s sticking with it. She’s had other addictions and smoking is usually the last of the addictions addicts give up. As we know she has a great support unit in place. I hope she sticks with it. Sending her all the strength on this!

I’ll be curious to see if her character Charlie on Poker Face quits next season. She had a cigarette in almost every scene. And now the stakes are doubled. I was so pleased with season one. I kept waiting for them to tank it, but the writing is tight and the storytelling is clever. I love Charlie’s story being the binding thread but the diversity in the individual episodes. It’s such a great way to make interesting TV. I’m praying they bring it in season two, but I’m gun-shy because Russian Doll season two was such a letdown. Fingers crossed.

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42 Responses to “Natasha Lyonne on quitting smoking: ‘the worst decision I ever made’”

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  1. PrincessOfWaffles says:

    For an unknown reason one day my cigarette almost made me barf, the smell that was suddenly disgusting, I quit right at that exact moment 5 years ago. But the cigarette was my friend for the longest time. I was never awkwardly alone waiting for the bus, if I knew nobody at a party, i was accompanied by my cig. I get Natasha’s comments. Hope she sticks with her decision.

    • Mimi says:

      Interesting. Almost like a hypnotic suggestion took root.

    • Elo says:

      This is exactly what happened to me. I quit and haven’t looked back. I totally understand what Natasha is saying here though.

  2. BusyLizzy says:

    I quit smoking for good 3 years ago. I was an on and off smoker but after seeing my dad, a long time smoker, get a massive heart surgery and part of his lungs removed…yeah I was convinced that smoking had to go. I do miss it sometimes when I am stressed or in social situations but best decision ever (also I am pregnant so I now find the smell horrendous).

    • HoofRat says:

      Congratulations! Having watched extended family members struggle with the health effects of smoking (sometimes years after quitting); I sincerely applaud anyone who has taken steps toward health. I lost the best grandpa in the world to smoking when I was only 9; this addiction is so harmful and persistent, and steals so much from so many. You are giving your child a wonderful gift by choosing health.

    • Bread and Circuses says:

      A family member of mine started craving cigarettes when she was pregnant — and she’s never been a smoker. She’s had a puff here and there, but that’s all.

      Something about the smell triggered her pregnancy cravings, though, and she had to fight to not buy cigarettes or beg for a puff from someone else.

  3. Dutch says:

    Smoking gets its claws in deep. My grandmother was a heavy smoker until she was in her 60s. The withdrawal sent her to the hospital. Some 20-plus years after quitting later when she was in a nursing home with dementia, one of the last coherent thighs I remember her says was to my younger sister, “I’ll give you my house if you go buy me a pack of cigarettes.”

  4. Chaine says:

    I’ve been quit smoking 25 years ago and I can’t stand the smell but sometimes in my sleep I still dream about smoking and seeing someone smoking on tv or in a movie will make me crave a cigarette so bad.

    • BeanieBean says:

      I’ve never smoked but I once dreamt I was smoking, I remember quite vividly the feel of that cigarette in my mouth, the sound of the striking match, the drawing in of the smoke, everything, and yet never once have I had a cigarette to my lips in my entire life. No idea what that dream was about! And it’s not that smoking was the focus, but I smoked in whatever the scenario was.

  5. samipup says:

    Hypnotism. It works. No craving AT ALL. No regrets. I stopped after my third session. I had three sessions instead of two because I was so hardcore. Smoked for over twenty years. Smoking is out of my life. Quit over 25 years ago. I wanted to quit but because the withdrawals are so hard I never tried cold turkey again. This worked great for me. Best $225.00 I ever spent.

  6. FHMom says:

    I’m not a smoker, but I wish her well in keeping cigarette free. She is insanely talented

    • Truthiness says:

      +1. I LOVE Poker Face and I hope she’ll be making film or tv for decades into the future.

    • Scurryalongnow says:

      Hypnosis is absolutely still around and incredible!!! I did it to curb craving carbs. First session I went home, passed by a coffee shop I could never resist getting a pastry at, and effortlessly made chili. I HATE cooking! But it was as if eating right and cooking was suddenly….normal, not something I dreaded. I’m a therapist and I’ll actually be going through hypnotherapy training soon, which is something to consider (hypnosis v hypnotherapy). I noticed hypnosis did bring up other stuff for me because of my eating disorder past, but when I explained it to a colleague she immediately recommended hypnotherapy for issues that have deeper “roots”, essentially because while the behavior might appear as though it’s getting “fixed” the underlying issues can start to resurface. She’s also a hypnotherapy provider and therapist and I’ve had such incredible results when I did see someone else. Definitely give hypnosis a try, but consider hypnotherapy if the behavior is stemming from some other deeply rooted challenges.

  7. Becks1 says:

    I smoked off and on in college, and then I studied abroad in Spain and that was when I really picked it up. I think at my max I was smoking two packs a week? Maybe a pack and a half? I can’t remember. I smoked when I was driving, when I was drinking and then I would have a few cigarettes intermittently throughout the week besides those times.

    Anyway met my now-husband in 2006 and he loathes smoking and cigarettes (grandparents died of lung cancer) so I haven’t smoked since then, so almost 17 years at this point, wow. and yes, I do miss it. I know I am so much better off not smoking and my hair and clothes smell better and I am not putting my lungs at risk etc. I know all that. But I still miss it. It’s an addiction for a reason!

    (the way I quit was Blow-pops. i would hold them like cigarettes especially as I was driving lol.)

    • FHMom says:

      Haha Becks. I studied in Spain in the 80’s and smoking was everywhere. I remember the bar (!) in my dorm (collegio) was always filled with smoke, and cigarettes were sold for a few pesetas at the front desk. I used to have one when I drank but I never really liked it so it never became a habit. Congrats to you on quitting.

    • Mimi says:

      My dad was an addict. Cigarettes, then added alcohol. He quit alcohol before cigarettes. Then he traded in sugar for the smoking. Was constantly eating a piece of candy, so he wouldn’t smoke. Rotted his teeth out, but still doesn’t smoke.

    • FrizzieLizzie says:

      I understand the Blow-Pop method. I never smoked, but my mother always had a cigarette in her hand and so I internalized that action of having something in your hand and putting it to your mouth as a kid. When I was trying to get through a particularly difficult chemistry class, I bought a bag of Blow-Pops and would eat one after each class. Gave me something to occupy my brain while I digested what I learned. It was then that I realized that smoking is a complicated addiction. My mom finally quit the day she had a broncoscopy and they found stage 4 lung cancer that had spread. She said the scope in her lung is what made her never want to smoke again. She lived 14 months.

  8. HandforthParish says:

    I don’t think it’s bad news she laments the decision.
    I think she’s being honest- she loves smoking, wishes she could smoke,but understands that it’s killing her and she can’t carry on.
    All factual and the tragedy of drugs.

  9. Dss says:

    I’m so happy for her renaissance. She looks great and she will always be the coolest lady in the room.

  10. Tee says:

    My youth choir teacher was diagnosed with lung cancer and never stopped smoking. It eventually took her.

  11. Jessica says:

    This is me, I LOVED smoking and miss it even though it’s been over 12 years, especially if I’m drinking, they go so well together. I go on a girls trip once a year with my high school gang and we all bring cigarettes like we’re 21 again and smoke it up all weekend🤣 I always feel like shit for a few days and cough so I don’t know how I used to smoke daily, so I am glad I quit, no more stinking like smoke and random smokers cough.

    • Christine says:

      Same. All the way the same.

      I loved smoking, it was a ritual, for decades. I used to have a pack in the freezer, long after I had quit smoking cigarettes, in case an earthquake hit, and I could either buy things off people in the streets, with cigarettes as currency, or just sit in a corner and rock, while I smoked.

      I won’t smoke another one, unless the world is actually ending, and a vampire offers me a smoke. It took a monumental effort to quit in the first place. I relied on the really grotesque vape flavors. If you are trying to quit, go to a store that sells vapes, and pick the ones that sound revolting. Grape aloe was the flavor that made me fully stop inhaling things. It was like inhaling off brand cough syrup. Don’t let them sell you on the flavors that sound appealing, that’s how they hook you on vapes, instead of cigarettes.

      Honestly, if there is one named “dog shit on the bottom of a shoe”, pick that one, if you really, truly want to quit. Grape aloe was my version of shit on a shoe.

  12. Mle428 says:

    I quit smoking in 2005 after I met my now husband. I grew up in the Midwest where it seemed like everyone smoked. When I moved to California in 2003 you couldn’t smoke anywhere. I used Wellbutrin to quit and I just stopped one week into taking that medication. I struggled with wanting a cigarette with a drink for several years (maybe 10?). Now I have zero desire to smoke at all and the smell grosses me out.

    I was fortunate when I quit to be in a place where temptation was low because of the laws surrounding smoking in public. It was weird visiting family in the Midwest and leaving a bar with my hair and my clothes all smelling of smoke.

    ETA I was a hospice nurse for 7 years and that really made me grateful for quitting smoking when I was young. We had a couple of people burn their faces smoking with oxygen. It basically creates a big fireball on your face and up your nostrils.

    Now I’m a psych NP and I’ll happily prescribe Wellbutrin, Zyban, or patches to help my patients when they want to quit smoking.

    • HoofRat says:

      I grew up in an era when smoking was everywhere – restaurants, airplanes, school staff rooms, and seemingly everyone’s house but ours. I remember being a that helpful kid who went around emptying and cleaning ashtrays. Given all that, it’s a miracle I never started smoking, and I’m so grateful it’s much less acceptable now.

  13. MROWE says:

    I became a regular smoker the day I got my drivers license and it took me over 20 years to quit. Chantix was what worked for me. But I kept slipping up, always when drinking. So, I quit drinking too – that was SO MUCH easier – and have been cigarette and alcohol free for several years. I like to joke that when I get to the pearly gates, the angel will hand me a lit Marlboro Light and a chilled white wine. I miss them both, but mostly the cigs.

  14. Steph says:

    I understand Natasha. When my Dr asked me if I wanted help quitting I honestly answered that I have no desire to quit. I’m not there. That doesn’t mean I don’t wish I never started to begin with.

  15. Margaret says:

    I am sitting here clutching my vape and feeling Natasha’s pain deeply

  16. AnneL says:

    My father was a chain smoker who was never able to quit. He grew up in Winston Salem, North Carolina, a cigarette manufacturing town at the time. He literally graduated from RJR Reynoids High School. He started at age 15.

    He was a two-pack-a-day smoker for decades. I remember there being a carton of cigarettes in the back of the car a lot of the time. When my mother finally banned him from smoking at home, just did it on the street, in the car, at work. By that time he might have been down to one pack a day, but I’m not sure. He was always finding excuses to run errands or go to the office.

    When he got into a bad car accident at age 74, he was told he HAD to quit so he did. Sort of. He certainly cut way down, but he would still hide a pack behind the boxed plants by the front door of their building, tell the doorman not to rat him out to my mother, and go smoke one down the block or around the corner. Not having the nicotine in his system really changed his personality. He was more anxious, more impatient, less sociable.

    For some people, those things get into your blood the way the stale smoke smell gets into the walls of a house and can never be removed. it’s very, very hard to overcome.

  17. LarkspurLM says:

    Poker Face was SO GOOD! Each episode kept getting better…esp “Welcome to S**T Mountain” and the finale. Good stuff…check it out, Natasha is fantastic!

  18. Lucía says:

    I love reading her interviews and thoughts on life. She’s been through so much and is always so open about it. I really hope she sticks with this!!!

  19. Maggi says:

    I did not want to quit cigarettes but my rescue dog made me. When we first met, I lit a smoke in my van and Brodie kept sneezing in my face until I put it out. It’s been two weeks and he is keeping me too busy to notice. Such a good boy 😀

  20. tealily says:

    I’m not a smoker, but I just want to encourage anyone who hasn’t watched Poker Face yet to give it a look. I can’t remember the last time I’ve enjoyed a show so much!!

  21. butterflystella says:

    I smoked cigs most of my adult life until 6 1/2 years ago (I’m 48). I bought a package of “bendy” straws to hold and chew on. It was fairly easy for me to quit, but I was truly over smoking. The smell is completely disgusting to me now!

  22. Typical Virgo says:

    I smoked for 15 years. I started early, in high school. I quit about 5 years ago, and no way in HELL could I start up again. I’ve felt this way from the moment I stubbed out my last cigarette. I must have been ready to quit.
    It blows my mind because both I and everyone I know who has quit smoking, becomes THOROUGHLY disgusted by the habit. I guess Natasha wasn’t ready. Too bad, because smokers are increasingly treated like lepers nowadays, which might or might not be reasonable, I don’t know…..

  23. Ange says:

    My grandmother started smoking at the ripe old age of 12 and managed to quit cold turkey when she turned around 92. It was an amazing feat. It’s never too late to quit if it’s something you want to do.

    As an aside Natasha looks amazing in that houndstooth number, her hair and makeup are particularly gorgeous.

  24. Madchester says:

    A big regret I have is not buying my Mom a pack when she was in hospice. She was going to leave this world anyway and it’s all she wanted. I wish I went against the family and just did it. She hadn’t smoked in months because of being in the hospital but she loved them
    There’s a lot of complicated relationships with cigarettes so good luck to Natasha and everyone else who’s done it

  25. shanaynay says:

    Every time I think about putting a cigarette to my lips I remember reading this and it scared the sh*t out of me.

    Cigarette smoking causes premature death: Life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years shorter than for nonsmokers. Quitting smoking before the age of 40 reduces the risk of dying from smoking-related disease by about 90%.

  26. jferber says:

    Love her and Poker Face so much!! Thank you for quitting smoking, Natasha. You are a national treasure.