‘Dancing with the Stars’ dancer Mark Ballas and his mother, Shirley talk about quitting smoking [Exclusive]

Mark Ballas, a professional ballroom dancer, who stars on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and his mother, Shirley, also a renowned professional ballroom dancer, were both smokers until a year ago. At that time, both Mark and Shirley decided that it was time to quit and did it together with help from GlaxoSmithKline’s Nicorette® gum and NicoDerm® CQ® patches. Today, both Mark and Shirley attended the “What’s Your Why” Smoke Swap event in New York’s Times Square to tell their story to other smokers, who are trying to quit and how to do it effectively. The event was held from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., anchored by a 20-foot smashed-out cigarette butt. Adult smokers were encouraged to share and celebrate who or what motivated them to quit – their “why.” In addition, all smokers who wanted to jumpstart a quit attempt received support from smoking cessation experts and free quit-smoking product and resources, including a starter pack of Nicorette® gum, NicoDerm® CQ® patches or a $10 coupon towards Nicorette® mini Lozenges. TheCelebrityCafe.com’s Sari N. Kent had the opportunity to speak to Mark and Shirley Ballas about the event, what made them start smoking in the first place and their joint effort to quit.

SNK: How did you become affiliated with GlaxoSmithKline and today’s “What’s Your Why” Smoke Swap event in Times Square?

MB: I decided that I wanted to quit smoking and started using the patch. Then, I started working with them to show it was working for me. Then, we got involved in the “What’s Your Why” campaign to tell others my story, how I wanted to quit, why I wanted to quit and sharing all of the details because I hoped to inspire other people to also get involved and kick the habit.

SNK: Why did you start smoking in the first place?

MB: I grew up in London and a lot of my friends were doing it. Also, my grandmother smoked, my mom smoked.

SNK: Shirley, what prompted you to finally decide to quit?

SB: Well, I saw that Mark was doing so well and then we decided to do it together, using the buddy system. Then, I thought about my grandchildren and all of the things that come in life and I didn’t want to be unhealthy anymore. So, I decided that it was time to quit so Mark and I decided to do it together and it worked very well.

SNK: Why do you think it might be easier to quit if you have support from a family member or friend as opposed to going it alone?

MB: I think it’s easier when you have help for when you say, ‘Oh, I’ll just have one.’ It’s like when you’re training, it’s easier to have a coach. Their like a teacher, they talk to you and you can move yourself along with the problem. Some people can’t cope, but they help them stay on track and you don’t feel like you’re alone. They can go to Quit.com and they can attend events like the “What’s Your Why” event to share their stories and learn they aren’t alone.

SNK: Shirley, why did you start smoking in the first place?

SB: Well, everyone around me was smoking. I didn’t think it was that bad a habit, but then I wanted a change. I don’t believe that anybody really needs it, but it was what everybody did back then.

SNK: Given the fact that you’re both successful and renowned ballroom dancers, didn’t the known health risks attached to smoking ever deter you from doing it?

MB: Not really. You think you know better and all of your friends are doing it. So, it never crossed my mind.

SNK: Did either of you ever try to quit on your own before you decided to quit together?

SB: Yes, I did, but it’s easier when you use the buddy system.

MB: Yes.

SNK: How do you think quit-smoking products like and the Nicorette® gum and the NicoDerm® CQ® patches help those who want to quit?

MB: Well, it worked for me and I could just put it on [the NicoDerm® CQ® patch] and go about my day. Then, you can wean yourself off. When you’re taking in that much nicotine a day, it slowly reduces the amount. It’s physical and mental as well. It just helps you want to do it [quit.]

SB: I enjoy using the gum. It really helped keep from taking a puff of a cigarette because it was something that took away the cravings.

SNK: My mother has also smoked for 40 years. She wants to quit, but isn’t sure how to go about it. What advice would you give her on how to start the process?

MB: First, she should check out Quit.com then read the “What’s Your Why” messages to read other people’s stories. Then go to the #WhatsYourWhy and if she wants to try the gum or the patches or the lozenges, then she can try them and see if any of them work for her.

SNK: I have read studies that say that if a parent smokes, their children are more likely to smoke, do you believe that’s true and why or why not?

MB: I think you can. I think if you’re around it, like me, I was around it so much, you get into it. I think it depends on a person’s personality, if you’re young and impressionable.

SNK: Would you give different advice to a longtime smoker who wants to quit versus a relatively new smoker?

MB: No, I would give the same advice. Whether you’re a longtime smoker or a relatively new one, you’re still a smoker. I do think if you’re smoking longer, you’ll be more stubborn [about quitting] and it might be a little harder to quit, but I’d give the same advice.

SNK: Shirley, you have said that you still struggle with cravings, what advice can you give others who also struggle not to go back to smoking?

SB: I have had cravings and spoken to Mark about them, but I realized that it’s a habit. Using the buddy system helps because when you feel like going back to smoking, you have somebody to talk to and that kind of thing.

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