Q&A: Dancing With the Stars’ Mark Ballas

The professional dancer talks how he quit smoking, and how others can do the same.

Mark Ballas

Mark Ballas with his mother. Photo provided to bostonmagazine.com

From smoke-free college campuses to stricter tobacco sale policies, Massachusetts has made a strong legislative effort to curb smoking in recent years. But for individuals looking to kick the habit, it can be hard to find the motivation. Mark Ballas wants to change that.

After quitting smoking two years ago, Ballas—a dancer and choreographer who has won Dancing With the Stars twice—became a spokesman for smoking cessation products Nicorette and NicoDerm CQ.

Below, Ballas tells us about his journey with smoking and how others can stop for good.

When did you start smoking?

I started smoking when I was 15 or 16 years old. I spent my whole childhood in England. In England, in Europe, smoking is very accessible. My grandma smoked, my mom smoked, my uncle smoked, all my friends at school smoked, so it was just something I kind of fell into, and it progressively became more and more. I smoked on and off from age 15, 16 up until age 27.

What made you want to quit?

It kind of hit me one day—I was in a class, I was teaching some kids, and I was really struggling to get air, I was really struggling to make it through the class. I was tired, I was wheezing, I just did not feel awesome. That was the moment where I was like, ‘Wow, this is now starting to take a toll on me. Before this gets any worse, I want to make the moves and quit now.’

As a dancer, how did smoking affect your career?

It was getting to the point where I was noticing it; I really wasn’t feeling healthy. I was coasting at 89 percent, you know? I really wanted to knock it out. I wanted to do that not just for myself, but for my friends and family, and when I had the opportunity to get involved and inspire other people, I was all for it. [Nicorette and NicoDerm] really offer a great support system, and that’s the part for me that was really appealing.

What was it like to quit?

Of course it was a challenge at first. Now I’m smoke free, I’m not having cravings, I can be around my friends who smoke and not feel tempted. I’m feeling much better, cleaner, and healthier. This is a really good time of year where people want to make changes, so with the Selftember campaign [a campaign encouraging smokers to quit during the mont of September] we’re trying to encourage people to get involved and make the leap and quit smoking.

What would you say to someone trying to quit?

Be persistent and keep at it. Don’t take no for an answer, don’t fall to the temptation. You’re going to have temptation, it’s going to be hard, but with this company and with these campaigns, you’re not alone. You can’t be afraid. You have to be strong-minded and keep striving for the goal, and you will feel better. Anything you want, you’ve got to work for it. It doesn’t come easily.