As I enjoyed writing the blog post about being tee total (i.e. no alcohol) I thought I might blog about smoking. Before I go any further, let me assure you I haven't smoked for many many years - it was a young adult kind-of phase. I am not proud of myself for this and thankful it has become a distant memory. The nearest picture I have of me taking part in that shameful habit is this one, above, which as you can see is from a cycling trip in Kenya, all those years ago.
I bucked the trend as far as smoking is concerned. As I had made it into my twenties with never having had a cigarette, you might ask why start then having avoided the ubiquitousness and crafty fag behind the bike sheds at school . Well, this is my answer: in 1984 as I toured around Kenya and Tanzania on my bike (aka a real heap of junk I had while I was at school) I was sometimes given some cigarettes which I saved up in my pannier bags. They were given to me as part of the change when I bought a meal somewhere. This was common practice then and as most people used to smoke in those days, I guess it was appreciated by cafe customers to have a cigarette after their meal. Mine was often omelet, rice and gravel. Once I had collected up all those cigarettes I decided to try one while camping in the middle of nowhere one night. Naturally I coughed my guts out, spluttering and spitting.
So, with such an awful start, why did I continue? For that matter, why would anyone want to smoke? Let's look at what is involved.
You take a load of dried tobacco leaves, spray them with a cocktail of nasty chemicals, wrap it up into some paper or press into a wooden pipe and then set fire to it. Once your miniature bonfire has started to smoulder, you breath in the smoke and allow it to circulate to every last corner and crevice in your lungs. As I have mentioned above you cough your guts out, everyone does it the first time. You have a horrible taste in your mouth and if, like me, you threw up and swear you'll never do it again. Except you do. You struggle to get a taste for it and by the time you do like the taste and the nice feeling it gives you, you're hooked. You are hooked on that nicotine and you then find yourself needing a cigarette at key times which then become more and more.
You also pay through the nose for it. Back in the 1980s a packet of 20 cigarettes was around £2.00 (give or take a bit). Now I notice they are three times that. Wow. Amazing how people continue to smoke even when they can't afford it.
Not having enough money adds to the stress of life which makes some people smoke all-the-more. I once remember going into a tiny little shop opposite the Probation Office I used to work in, back in the 1980s. It was the old-fashioned kind of shop where you stood in front of a counter and had to ask the shop keeper for what you wanted. Standing in front of me one day, I remember one of my offenders asked for a bottle of milk, a loaf of bread and a packet of cigarettes . When he realised he didn't have enough money, I thought to myself "I bet he'll just buy the cigarettes" and sure enough he did. He didn't know I was behind him at the time, so when he came to see me for his next appointment, I asked him about it. He was trapped there in his addiction, along with the alcohol and drug use which I already knew about from his offences - it was another addictive behaviour for me to unpick with him. Every smoker is just the same - addicted to a behaviour and a behaviour that can be changed.
How to give up smoking
Let's make no mistake, cigarettes are addictive, both physically and psychologically. You learn to believe they're cool and they build a carefree, sociable, sophisticated image about yourself. You believe you need a cigarette before you can deal with some things like getting up in the morning, going into a meeting, going for a drink or a coffee, driving a car and the list goes on. You're hooked, addicted and conditioned to believe these things. You're trapped.
And yet it is these beliefs that continue to fuel the addiction. Having patches, nicotine replacement therapy and a whole load of other tricks all reinforce the belief that cigarettes are something you need. You forget that you did all those things perfectly well before you started smoking.
We reward ourselves for when we cut down our cigarette consumption - alternative "well done" treats and the like. You treat yourself to a new shirt, or a new TV or a new something else with the money you have saved (or hope you might save). This is all complete nonsense. By doing this, or replacing cigarettes with other sources of nicotine, you are reinforcing the need for cigarettes.
What works, in my view, is embracing the belief that YOU DO NOT NEED CIGARETTES. Just the belief that you are giving up nothing that you actually need is the way to succeeding. Cutting down, switching to low tar brands and so on is wrong as that again reminds you of how you still want and need cigarettes. You don't. Rise above it and remember how you never needed a cigarette in order to get up in the morning before you started smoking. All you are giving up is the long list of negative things associated with cigarettes - the bad breath, the coughing, the nasty taste, the slavery, the cost, the health implications and so on.
Looking back to that time, it seems extraordinary. While I can believe it was fun or slightly mischievous to try a few cigarettes in the African bush, that seems a life time ago. What helped me at the time was being young and reasonably fit and my body quickly repaired the damage. I'm so thankful I quit and it has become a distant memory. Although the memory is distant, I can still remember the whole experience - the way cigarettes can grip your life and rule you. If you're reading this and you're a smoker, you have to believe there is everything to gain from quitting and simply nothing to gain from carrying on. Just remember - YOU DO NOT NEED THAT CIGARETTE. RISE ABOVE IT.