I saw a stat the other day that seven out of ten smokers want to quit, but most believe they can’t. Up until now, this has certainly been the case for me.
London is a tough place to give up smoking. Aside from the stress of the rush-hour commute to the City - a full-blooded contact sport that takes a while to master - it feels like there’s a craving lurking around every corner; ready to pounce on some poor soul trying to quit. In fact, it’s hard to walk down a street in our capital without encountering someone chaining on a cigarette. Cancer sticks they may be, but they look oh-so-appealing when you’re trying to meet a deadline.
I’ve been smoking for around a decade. I’m nowhere near a 20-a-day smoker: at my worst, I was probably smoking 10 to 15 cigs a day, but now I only really smoke on weekends or on nights out. Much to my dismay, I’ve actually assumed a role I used to ridicule: the part-time social smoker (or, as my mates would attest to, part-time scrounger). Although I’ve significantly cut down, it’s still a habit that needs to be shirked.
Admittedly, I’ve tried to quit several times before - more times than I could even begin to count or recollect. You might be wondering what makes this time different. For one, I’m putting my attempt on the shiny pedestal of the internet for all to see; meaning there’s the added pressure of knowing I’ll likely be caught if I try to sneak away for a cheeky fag. Secondly, I was diagnosed with a chronic heart condition three years ago, so the fact I continued smoking in the first place is, well, plain daft.
Thirdly, I decided to take a long, hard look at the facts. More than 120,000 people in the UK still die each year from smoking-related causes. That’s roughly equivalent to the population of High Wycombe. In other words, we’re losing a reasonably-sized Buckinghamshire town’s worth of people each year to an entirely avoidable cause.
You’ve heard the spatial element to this ongoing public health tragedy, now here’s the temporal aspect: roughly speaking, someone in the UK dies from smoking every 4 minutes and 23 seconds. So in the time it takes to smoke just one cigarette, another person somewhere in the country will have quite literally succumbed to tobacco addiction.
When we consider that the risks of smoking have been common knowledge for decades, it’s time to act now. And for me, it’s about putting my money where my mouth is - though, ironically, I imagine I’ll also save a fair bit of dosh doing so.
So, here it goes. Here’s the first week of my Stoptober diary.
Monday 1st October
Technically, this is actually my second day of quitting. I didn’t smoke yesterday (partly due to a particularly nagging hangover), but this wasn’t out of a conscious effort to abstain from the habit. On certain days, I just don’t smoke.
In fact, since cutting down significantly over the last couple of years, I’ll sometimes go four or five days without even thinking about smoking - until the urge takes hold and before I know it I’m splashing out on a pack of Benson & Hedges from the nearest off-licence.
So although it’s not technically my first day being smoke-free, it’s the first day of consciously being a bona fide non-smoker. A different kettle of fish altogether. Daunting, almost.
Because going a few days without smoking is something I’m used to, I’m going cold turkey for now. No nicotine patches, no special gum, no e-cigarette. I imagine I’ll be fine for the first three or four days; the real litmus test will be on the occasions where alcohol (and, by extension, cigarettes) will be out in force.
Tuesday 2nd October
Aside from some non-smoking research, for most of this morning I hardly gave cigarettes a thought. Since lunchtime, however, I’ve started to get noticeably grumpy after the allure of nicotine started to kick in. I’ve already tallied twenty-two cravings today - and it’s only 4pm.
Perhaps it’s just one of those days. In any case, it’s probably going to be a long month.
Wednesday 3rd October
This morning was a stressful one: I planned to start reading a new book en route to work, but being unable to lift my arms due to the rush-hour crush on the train put pay to that. And that made me want a cigarette, too. I never usually smoke in the morning, so the withdrawal effects are definitely kicking in.
As I bring myself back to my senses, I’m reminded of this Allen Carr quote:
“The moment you stop smoking, everything that goes wrong in your life is blamed on the fact that you’ve stopped smoking.”
Too right, Allen, too right.
Now that my mood is swinging back to a more positive standpoint I’d also like to apologise to my hungry coworkers, as I’ve done a real smash-and-grab job on the office biscuit jar today. I’ve heard that many people who give up smoking initially gain weight, so I need to try and curb this ravenous appetite for bourbons.
Since the cravings have started to lessen in intensity, I’ve been drinking lots of water and have controlled the urge to smoke by focusing on small work-based tasks (aided by a soundtrack of heavily repetitive krautrock). Three days in, and just about coping.
Thursday 4th October
Today was the first real test of my Stoptober: going out for a reunion with smoking friends.
Despite the ferocious onslaught of tobacco-laden temptation that lasted throughout the course of the evening, I’m happy to say that I’m still smoke-free. It was a tough old slog, but I’m mightily relieved to have come out the other side without putting nicotine back in my system (according to the NHS, the nicotine levels in a person’s body are depleted after 48 hours of not smoking).
This evening was much tougher than I expected. Drinking is obviously one of the main triggers that causes people who quit smoking to relapse, and it’s not hard to see why. For me, the two have always seemed as inseparable as, say, Simon and Garfunkel. Cigarette in one hand, pint in the other. And as someone who’s struggled with anxiety throughout my adult life, the habit has always given me somewhere to channel those feelings. Besides, it looks cool, right? (N.B. it doesn’t).
The whole Stoptober endeavour nearly came to an abrupt end at some point around 9pm. A cigarette somehow actually made its way into my hands a couple of times, but the angel on the right shoulder out-shouted the devil on the left. After some much-needed soul-searching and encouragement from my girlfriend, I batted the nicotine demons into temporary submission.
Now the night is done, I’m starting to realise how it must feel for non-smokers. My jacket reeks of cigarettes, and that’s just from being in close proximity to smokers. If anything, getting through the night and being left with the noxious after-effects on my clothes has totally killed any cravings for now.
All in all, it feels like a massive psychological barrier has been hurdled.
Friday 5th October
Aside from the totally inevitable hangover (reunions, eh?), today has been strangely short on withdrawal symptoms or cravings. No hallucinations of flying cigarettes; no dreams of being tormented by tabs. I’m doing quite fine, actually. Maybe it’s because it’s Friday.
Despite the progress, there’s an uneasy sense of foreboding lingering in my mind. Today, there’s an eerie calm as the eye of the withdrawal hurricane passes overhead after last night’s storm of cravings. Tomorrow, I’m taking a train up north with some of my mates to watch a Yorkshire grudge match between Sheffield United and my team, Hull City.
Top versus bottom; all to play for. And a group of drinking, smoking friends in tow. The nicotine storm is set to come back more powerful than ever.
Saturday 6th October
Saturday. An away day with the boys up to Sheffield to watch the football. A day I’d been looking forward to and dreading in equal measure.
Aside from the stress of watching City play, it was always going to be a boozy affair. To make matters worse, all four of my friends are heavy smokers when they drink, so trying to not cave to the cravings was excruciating at times.
By the time the match kicked off, we’d already been drinking for hours. No cigarettes up until this point, which bode well. I made a terrible Simon and Garfunkel analogy earlier in the week, and for good reason: they eventually split up - much like I hope my cigarettes and alcohol habit does.
As I write this, it’s past midnight, I’m back home in the capital, the alcohol has worn off and I’m slightly exhausted from a day’s back-and-forth between London and the North. But did I eventually give in?
Even though my team dampened the occasion somewhat by putting in an abject performance - ending the day rooted to the foot of the table - I can happily say that I made it through the argy-bargy of a football away day without so much as a drag of a cigarette. And it was much easier than Thursday night, too. Turns out yesterday’s forecast was wrong.
Maybe I overestimated this quitting lark? I guess we’ll soon see if I’ve spoken too soon…
Sunday 7th October
After yesterday’s triumph (abstaining from cigarettes, that is - not the result of the match), today’s cigarette cravings have been at a minimum. However, the new day has also brought the first real bouts of coughing since giving up. Painful, but evidence that my lungs are starting to clear themselves out.
My mood has been swinging like Tarzan having a tantrum. I’ve been fairly irritable all day and had to go for an exertive jog around the local park just to let off some steam. Although it’s interesting to observe these rapid fluctuations in mood, they’re not nice to experience - neither for me nor my girlfriend.
In other, more uplifting Stoptober-related news, I’ve also got a major announcement to make: my taste buds are expanding! Years of smoking (coupled with a meat-and-two-veg Yorkshire upbringing) means I don’t normally have the most sophisticated palette. When I tucked into our meal this evening, I could taste more than three flavours at once. I feel like Gregg Wallace or something.
Yikes; I’ve made it through the first week of Stoptober. Nothing too remarkable or out of the ordinary, though Thursday night’s dinner and Saturday’s away day took more willpower and self-discipline than I'm normally used to.
If anything, the overriding emotion is one of relief - I almost buckled at one point, so there’s no point getting too ahead of myself. Here’s the lowdown of a whirlwind week of smoke-free hijinks.
- Because I’m not particularly feeling the physical effects right now, I guess the main highlight has been the motivating knowledge that I’m on a forward trajectory towards being smoke-free.
- Hangovers seem to be more bearable.
- Perhaps it’s a newfound sense of discipline and autonomy, but I’ve also been a bit more sensible with the drinking, too. Mine’s a coke!
- My taste buds are having fun for the first time in a while.
- Feel more tired than usual (and I have a chronic condition, so I always feel tired).
- Snacking on biscuits.
- Mood swings.
- I feel like I’m gaining weight - may need to go for a run this weekend!
- Snacking on biscuits.
Although it’s only been a week, I feel more confident that I can successfully make it through a smoke-free October than I did only a matter of days ago. It’s tough, yes, but I’ll take gladly take short-term irritation over long-term health problems, smelly clothes and addiction.
Stay tuned for more non-smoking moaning next week!
- If you need a little motivation to quit, check out our article on why it’s time to stub out smoking for good.
- For more on Public Health England's annual Stoptober campaign and for more non-smoking resources, visit the NHS' Stoptober page.
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