'Dancing with the Stars' pro Mark Ballas encourages others to quit smoking during 'SELFtember'

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By Lisa Bonarrigo

'Dancing with the Stars' is back with Season 21 in full swing, and professional dancer Mark Ballas is ready to bring even more creativity to the ballroom this time around. Watching the pro dance each season, you may never guess that his smoking habit caused him to lose stamina pretty easily just a few years ago.

Now he's making a point to help smokers begin their journey to a healthier life the way he did when he decided to quit by partnering with Nicorette® and NicoDerm® CQ® to turn September into SELFtember, a time when smokers can begin their journey to a smoke-free lifestyle. We caught up with the dancing pro to learn more about the SELFtember campaign, his own personal journey to quit smoking and what he's looking forward to on this season of 'Dancing with the Stars.'

SEE ALSO: 'Dancing with the Stars' kicks off Season 21: See which couples have an early lead!

The moment he decided to kick the habit
When Mark was growing up in England, he was surrounded by smokers, including his mother, grandmother, uncle and school friends. Because it was very accessible to him, he fell into the habit easily. "When you're young, you feel invincible," Mark shares. "You know the warnings, you know it's not good for you, you know it can affect you, but you kind of think it's not [going to] catch you."

Mark had been smoking on and off for about 11 years when he was in a dancing class and noticed a change. "I was struggling to breathe. I was coughing, wheezing and I wasn't getting through something that would typically be a breeze for me. That was the moment that I [thought], 'I need to kick this now.'"

The dancing pro admits that he wanted to kick the habit before he started making some big life decisions, like getting married and raising a family. "I wanted to cut it out before I hit my 30s, before I have kids [and get] married ... I don't want my kids growing up around that," Mark shares. "That's a big part of it ... I wanted to cut it out before I go into that next chapter and phase of my life."

See photos of 'Dancing with the Stars' pro Mark Ballas over the years:
30 PHOTOS
'Dancing with the Stars' pro Mark Ballas
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'Dancing with the Stars' pro Mark Ballas encourages others to quit smoking during 'SELFtember'
DANCING WITH THE STARS - 'Episodes 2210A' - It's the closest race ever with some of the best dancing celebrities have ever pulled off. Ginger Zee and Valentin Chmerkovskiy, Nyle DiMarco and Peta Murgatroyd, and Paige VanZant and Mark Ballas have one last night of competitive dancing, vying to win the judges' and America's votes to be crowned the 'Dancing with the Stars' champion, culminating an incredible season, announced live TUESDAY, MAY 24 (9:00-11:00 p.m. EDT), on the ABC Television Network. (Adam Taylor/ABC via Getty Images) PAIGE VANZANT, MARK BALLAS
DANCING WITH THE STARS - 'Episodes 2210' - After weeks of stunning competitive dancing, the final three couples advance to the finals of 'Dancing with the Stars,' live, MONDAY, MAY 23 (8:00-9:01 p.m. EDT), on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Adam Taylor/ABC via Getty Images) MARK BALLAS, PAIGE VANZANT
DANCING WITH THE STARS - 'Episodes 2210' - After weeks of stunning competitive dancing, the final three couples advance to the finals of 'Dancing with the Stars,' live, MONDAY, MAY 23 (8:00-9:01 p.m. EDT), on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Adam Taylor/ABC via Getty Images) MARK BALLAS, PAIGE VANZANT
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17: BC Jean and Mark Ballas of Alexander Jean attend Los Angeles GRAMMY Showcase at The Fonda Theatre on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/WireImage for The Recording Academy)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 24: Mark Ballas is seen on April 24, 2016 arriving to rehearsals for 'Dancing with the Stars' in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by JMA/Star Max/GC Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 23: (L-R) UFC strawweight Paige VanZant, TV personality Mark Ballas and his fiance BC Jean in attendance at UFC 197 event inside MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 23, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 14: Actress Alexa PenaVega (L) and dancer/TV personality Mark Ballas attend ABC's 'Dancing with the Stars' photo op at CBS Studios on September 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 22: Mark Ballas and Cheryl Burke attend a private event at Hyde Staples Center hosted by Tommy Bahama during the Taylor Swift concert on August 22, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Tommy Bahama)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 21: Mark Ballas and Willow Shields arrives at the 10th Anniversary Of 'Dancing With The Stars' Party at Greystone Manor on April 21, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
DANCING WITH THE STARS: 10TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL - The pop culture phenomenon that has brought ballroom dancing and beyond to living rooms across America for the past decade celebrates with a star-studded spectacular, on 'Dancing with the Stars: 10th Anniversary Special,' TUESDAY APRIL 28 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET/PT) on the ABC Television Network. The extraordinary episode was filled with show-stopping performances featuring past and present 'Dancing with the Stars' cast members and pro dancers plus a look back at fan-favorite moments from the past 20 seasons. Dancing history was made with the show's largest opening number ever, featuring over 45 stars including the judges, hosts, and Season 20 pro dancers performing alongside 15 celebrity alums and seven returning pros. (Photo by Adam Taylor/ABC via Getty Images) CENTER: MARK BALLAS, KATHERINE JENKINS
DANCING WITH THE STARS - 'Episode 2006' - 'Dancing with the Stars' brought the beach to the ballroom on 'Spring Break Night' with all-new celebrity performances MONDAY, APRIL 20 (8:00-10:01 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network. The eight remaining couples celebrated the season with individual routines to a variety of spring break inspired songs plus a competitive team dance performance. (Photo by Adam Taylor/ABC via Getty Images) MARK BALLAS, WILLOW SHIELDS
DANCING WITH THE STARS - 'Episode 2005' - 'Dancing with the Stars' marked the halfway point of the competition with its biggest show yet, 'Disney Night,' with all new celebrity performances MONDAY, APRIL 13 (8:00-10:01 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. The show began with an opening number featuring all your favorite live action and animated Disney characters dancing with the entire cast. Each couple then performed to songs from Walt Disney Animation Studios films. (Photo by Adam Taylor/ABC via Getty Images) WILLOW SHIELDS, MARK BALLAS
Mark Ballas, left, and B.C. Jean arrive at Nickelodeon's 28th annual Kids' Choice Awards at The Forum on Saturday, March 28, 2015, in Inglewood, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Photo by: JMA/STAR MAX/IPx 9/16/14 Witney Carson, Mark Ballas and Lindsay Arnold at a debut party for the new Mark Ballas EP, "Kicking Clouds". (Los Angeles, CA)
Photo by: JMA/STAR MAX/IPx 9/16/14 Val Chmerkovskiy and Mark Ballas at a debut party for the new Mark Ballas EP, "Kicking Clouds". (Los Angeles, CA)
Photo by: JMA/STAR MAX/IPx 9/16/14 Mark Ballas at a debut party for the new Mark Ballas EP, "Kicking Clouds". (Los Angeles, CA)
Mark Ballas stops by the Wango Tango gifting suite to taste the new Randoms candy by Wonka at StubHub Center on Saturday, May 10, 2014, in Carson, Calif. (Photo by Casey Rodgers/Invision for Wonka/AP Images)
Chairman and CEO of Martell Mumm Perrier Jouet Phillippe Guettai (L) and dancer Mark Ballas arrive at the launch for Martell Caractere Cognac at The Paramour Mansion on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR HOUSE OF ROCK - Mark Ballas performs at the On Air with Ryan Seacrest KIIS-FM Pick Your Purse Party on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 at the House of Rock in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for House of Rock/AP Images)
Mark Ballas Jr., left, Hal Sparks and Derek Hough backstage at "Voices On Point" Concert & Gala held at The Wiltern theatre on Saturday Sept. 15, 2012, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for Point Foundation/AP Images)
Katherine Jenkins and Mark Ballas from "Dancing With The Stars" appears on ABC's "Good Morning America" show, in New York, Wednesday, May 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)
Finalists from "Dancing with the Stars" Alexandra Raisman and Mark Ballas dance on ABC's "Good Morning America" show on Wednesday, May 22, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: (L-R) Shirly Ballas and Mark Ballas attends the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences 2011 Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theater L.A. Live on September 10, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/Invision for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences/AP Images)
Dancing with the Stars finalists Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas appear on Good Morning America in New York, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)
"Dancing with the Stars" finalists, Bristol Palin, left, and Mark Ballas dance on ABC's "Good Morning America" in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)
Contestant Bristol Palin poses with her dance partner Mark Ballas following the 11th season premiere of "Dancing with the Stars," Monday, Sept. 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Shawn Johnson and her professional dance partner, Mark Ballas arrive at the CMT Music Awards in Nashville, Tenn. Tuesday, June 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)
This image released by ABC-TV shows the remaining two couples on Dancing with the Stars, from left Mark Ballas, Kristi Yamaguchi, Jason Taylor and Edyta Sliwinska Tuesday May 20, 2008. After four consecutive male winners on "Dancing With the Stars," it was finally ladies' night. Kristi Yamaguchi was named the new "Dancing" champ on the show's season finale, becoming the first woman to win the ABC dance-off since its inaugural season. (AP Photo/ABC - MICHAEL DESMOND) MARK BALLAS, KRISTI YAMAGUCHI, JASON TAYLOR, EDYTA SLIWINSKA
Mark Ballas, left, and Sabrina Bryan arrive at the Rolling Stone magazine Hot party in Los Angeles on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2007. The party celebrates the magazine's annual "Hot List". (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 27: Musicians Mark Ballas (L) and BC Jean of Alexander Jean perform at the BMI Snowball presented by Canada Goose during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival at Festival Base Camp on January 27, 2016 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Randall Michelson/Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival)
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Getting the help he needed to quit
Mark didn't have an easy time quitting in the beginning. "It takes a lot of strength and willpower," he says. "I tried cold turkey in the past. I had success, but then ultimately kept coming back to it, because there's so much more to the habit than people realize. It's not just the nicotine or the actual cigarette. It's also the physicality of [it] -- ripping off the seam, opening the box, pulling out the foil, flicking open the cigarette, putting it in your mouth, lighting it –- you're addicted to that as much as you are to the nicotine."

He needed something to give him an extra push, and that's how he stumbled across NicoDerm® and its products. "I was very interested in a company and brand that were advocating to help people quit and to find a healthier lifestyle," he says. He used the NicoDerm® CQ® patch, putting it on every morning and taking it off before bed. "It worked for me. It really helped. They have amazing online support," he shares.

Mark partnered with the company for the 'What's Your Why?' campaign over the summer, and now he's gearing up for the SELFtember campaign. "This is a time of year [when] people are making changes," Mark says. "[They're] coming out of summer vacation and traveling and eating whatever they want, and now it's back to work and back to school and keeping your body in check and feeling healthier. So this is a really good time to start new and fresh and [it's] fun for people to get involved with ... The product worked for me. It helped me [quit smoking], and I feel way better for it. I feel healthier, I feel cleaner, I'm dancing better, I'm not losing stamina and I'm saving money –- and I don't stink!"

Advice for others who want get healthy
Part of the reason Mark got involved with the SELFtember campaign is because of the support Nicorette® and NicoDerm® CQ® provide. "You have the product [and] you have other people that are doing the same thing," he says. "There's online support, and that's the part that I found so intriguing ... You can talk to other people that are in the same boat, that are experiencing the same thing, and you realize you're not alone."

Mark points out that it can feel very isolating to quit smoking, and you may feel like you're the only one going through the struggle and no one understands. "There [are] so many people out there going through the exact same thing, [with the] same questions, trying to accomplish the exact same goal that you are," he says. "That's what's great about the 'What's Your Why?' campaign and the SELFtember campaign. It just keeps people united and keeps people strong."

Looking forward to 'Dancing With the Stars'
Mark took this past summer off, which was the first summer he didn't dance in "quite a while." Until rehearsals began for Season 21 of 'Dancing with the Stars,' he hadn't danced since the finale of the last season of the show. "It was nice to just kind of recharge, because I very much needed that time, and I'm very much looking forward to coming into this season open-minded, clear-minded and ready to be creative and to be inspired again," Mark says. "I think it's going to be a good one!"

Check out the 'Dancing with the Stars' Season 21 cast:
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Dancing with the Stars Season 21 cast so far
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'Dancing with the Stars' pro Mark Ballas encourages others to quit smoking during 'SELFtember'

Actors Alexa PenaVega and Carlos PenaVega

(Photo by Paul Redmond/WireImage)

Chef Paula Deen

(Photo by Aaron Davidson/Getty Images for SOBEWFF)

American train attack hero Alek Skarlatos

(Photo by Heidi Gutman/ABC via Getty Images)

Actor Gary Busey

(Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)

Reality star Kim Zolciak

(Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

American Pharoah's jockey Victor Espinoza  

(Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

Bindi Irwin

(Photo by Mike Pont/WireImage)

Singer Andy Grammer

(Photo by Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images)

Toni Braxton's sister Tamar Braxton

(Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

Musician Chaka Khan

 (Photo by Mike Pont/Getty Images)

Singer Nick Carter

(Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Internet personality Hayes Grier

(Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

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