When Rumer Willis was a teenager, she, like so many other teenagers, thought it might be cool to pick up smoking. After all, everyone in the movies did it. All her friends were trying it too. Even mom Demi Moore had smoked for years, so why wouldn’t Willis experiment? 20 years after her first cigarette, Willis talked with SheKnows exclusively about the decades-long journey of quitting and starting over that she began in her teen years, and why she’s partnering with Nicorette now to help other smokers quit for good. Willis gets it: she’s seven years out from her first serious go at quitting, and she knows it’s about way more than just the chemical withdrawal (though that stinks too). One thing she’ll never understand, though? How mom Demi Moore’s own process quitting cigarettes looked so effortless.
Rumer Willis is partnering with Nicorette for contest #StartStoppingShoutOut, which connects 30 winners with personalized videos from Willis or another celeb partner encouraging them on their journey to quit. The actress has turned to Nicorette herself for support quitting, but she wants to provide that extra level of social support that she knows can feel lacking when you give up cigarettes. After all, she herself picked up smoking in a social context.
“I would say like 16 or 17 is when I really started smoking,” Willis tells SheKnows. “My mom had quit by then, but all of my friends smoked. I remember the different ways that we would try and get cigarettes before we turned 18. We just thought we were so cool.”
She was 25 or so when she first realized the habit was negatively affecting her.
“I was doing a musical and there were so many talented singers, like crazy, crazy, talented singers, and I remember doing a couple of rehearsals and just literally saying to myself, there’s no way I can keep up with these people if I smoke,” she says.
So, did Willis turn to Moore for support on her quitting journey, the way she’s referenced her family leaning on each other for support with their sobriety in recent years? Not exactly.
“She’s kind of a badass that way, where I think one day she just decided to stop and never did it again,” she explains. “It’s like, one of those [things] where you’re going, ‘OK, well how do I do this?'”
Willis’ first round of quitting impressed me just about as much as Moore’s — she walked out of rehearsal, got some Nicorette patches, and told herself “I just have to do this.”
“It was really hard, but I did it. I quit for like three years,” she says. But the story doesn’t end there.
“I started back up, I think, for a year or two, and then I quit again when I was 28,” she details next. “And then I had done pretty well, so I thought I would maybe try be a casual smoker, which never works for anyone.”
By the time quarantine rolled around, Willis didn’t consider herself a smoker, per se — but it was hard to resist temptation to pick up something.
“I’ve been sober for almost 4 years. And I think there was this mentality of, well, I have no vices. And I was seeing all these memes on Instagram about people drinking and whatever…And I almost got mad,” she admits. “I wasn’t really smoking, but I had a couple of days where I thought, you know what, I’m going to I’m going to try and have a cigarette again. And I just kind of hated it.”
As of this interview, she hasn’t had a cigarette in five months, and says her best replacement vice has been sour candy and chocolate (a recommendation we can’t endorse highly enough). Her deeper advice, though, involves looking past filling that void and figuring out what you’re really missing.
“There’s such an emotional component to it,” she says. “You can get the nicotine out of your system in three days, but the emotional component, why we smoke — those moments where you’re at a dinner party and you’re feeling uncomfortable so you get up from the table and your excuse is, ‘I’m going to go have a cigarette outside’ or you’re nervous to talk to a guy you like or a girl you like or whoever you like and say, ‘hey, do you have a light?’ There’s so many things that we become reliant on…There’s all of these kind of pathways in our brain that become so attached to, ‘this is helping me. This is calming me down.'”
“I think it’s important to kind of take a pause in that moment and go, all right, ‘why am I really wanting a cigarette? What am I trying to avoid? What am I trying to numb my feelings from, what’s coming up that I want to escape?'” she continues. “Say to yourself, ‘I’m going to take five minutes and if I still want it, I can reconsider then.’ And then after that five minutes, I’ll just keep trying five more minutes, five minutes at a time.”
Willis has clearly inherited Moore’s gift for speaking candidly about struggles that others try to hide, to the detriment of everyone who’s ever suffered with addiction. By partnering with Nicorette, she hopes to connect with people who need an honest account of the highs and lows of quitting from someone who’s been there.
“You don’t want to listen to the people who don’t smoke, who have never been through it, who don’t understand that it’s not that easy,” she says. After Moore’s improbable cold turkey quit, Willis wants to reassure you that, when it comes to quitting smoking, some stars are still just like us.
Before you go, click here to see more celebrities who quit smoking and how they did it.