I was at the folk session in Corsock last night - the first since the new smoking ban was introduced across Scotland. As well as being an enjoyable session, it was great to come home without stinking like an ashtray.
Back to how I tackled my addiction...
Before I began in earnest I started tackling the cigarettes-with-associations habit. For example, I’d always have a fag with a cup of coffee or tea, so what I did was decide that either I had the drink, or the cigarette, but not both together. To begin with, as soon as the warm liquid touched my lips I would instantly start craving, but I kept telling myself that at this point I wasn’t giving up – I could still have the cigarette - but only after I’d emptied the mug. Initially, in my haste to finish my beverage, it wasn’t unknown for me to scald my mouth and tongue, but within only a few days my body got used to separating the two actions and I no longer yearned for the nicotine the moment I began drinking. Likewise I always used to light up after a meal, but by delaying that satisfaction for half an hour, once again within a few days I managed to break that association.
When the time came to quit completely, I’d realised that going cold turkey wasn’t going to work (and this was in the days before nicotine patches), so I went down the route of cutting down. I pushed myself as far as I could between cigarettes, waiting until I could bear it no longer before giving in, and within a few days I’d dropped down into single figures. However once I was at 6 a day, I just couldn’t seem to get lower.
A friend of mine had heard of something he called “herbal tobacco” that you could buy at the pharmacy: you could smoke it, but it had no nicotine. When I lit my first roll-up of pure herbal, my body went into extreme reaction overdrive. The act of smoking without getting the nicotine hit caused my craving to increase a hundred times as my body started screaming WHERE THE F***'S THE NICOTINE YOU BAST***. It’s like the very first time you have a cup of decaffeinated coffee: as soon as you finish it you go “damn, I could do with a cup of coffee!”
My solution was to mix the herbal concoction with the tobacco to create a kind of nicotine-lite. I immediately went up to 9 a day, but with only half the amount of nicotine I’d made a net gain. As well as tasting foul it did have a peculiar smell, so I shouldn’t have been surprised at the odd looks I began getting in public places when I would place a thin layer of tobacco in a rizla, then sprinkle in this other stuff that was a different colour and had a weird aroma. After it dawned on me that it was probably just a matter of time before I got arrested on suspicion, I began mixing it at home and transferring it to the baccy tin before going out.
One of the upsides of doing it this way was that I could be more accurate with the proportions, thus each time I hit a wall with cutting down, I could increase the proportion of herbal to tobacco.
One day, a month or so after I embarked on this journey, in the space of 24 hours I had only one roll-up, and that was about 5/6 herbal. Figuring that if I could do that, then I ought to be able to cope with none at all, I made ritual out of smoking my last ever cigarette.
The following day was difficult, but I managed, and by late evening I was triumphant. The next day was 10 times worse. Day 3 didn’t seem any better; in fact I would say that it was somewhere in the region of about 3 weeks before I began to have occasional days where every waking moment was not obsessed with the yearning, aching desire for a cigarette. But gradually the moments where I wasn’t brooding on the withdrawal became more frequent and lasted longer, until after around 3 months I felt like I was finally in control.
One unexpected side effect of giving up smoking was that my sense of taste and smell came back with a vengeance after a few days. Because the dulling of the senses by smoking is so gradual you don’t notice it happening: whereas before I would slap down the pickle, thick and deep on my cheese sandwiches, now all I had to do was take the lid off the jar and waft it lightly over the top to achieve the same level of tanginess; suddenly I could identify the brand of rolling tobacco someone might be using by smell alone when they opened their tin; and most disturbingly, I could tell when my niece’s nappy needed changing before her mother did, even if she was sitting on my sister’s lap on the other side of the room. I do remember being surprised that in this fragrant world I had entered, there were far more pungent aromas than pleasant ones.
I went through such utter hell giving up smoking that I swore I would never do it again. If I took up smoking again, this time it would be for life. Friends and family around also told me that they were never going to put up with me giving up smoking again either, which caught me off guard as I hadn’t even noticed the effect I was having on those around me. I am grateful that any of them still speak to me.
There are still occasions, nearly 16 years later, that I would still kill for a cigarette although fortunately they are very rare these days. But rather like the dry alcoholic, who will always be an alcoholic, even if they never have another drink, I can’t help but think that I’ll always be a smoker who just hasn’t had a cigarette for years. I know that if I was to ever give in and have one, then within a few weeks I would find an excuse to have another, then one more again a few days after that. It would soon be just one in the evenings and before I knew it I would be smoking regularly again. So it’s better that I never start.
Another unexpected, but extremely beneficial effect of giving up was that it enabled me to develop a relationship with the love of my life.
3 months after my final cigarette I returned to education at the local technical college as a way of meeting new friends rather than particularly to gain any qualifications. I knew a few people who were attending the college, but as they were all smokers at break times they went, naturally enough, to the Smoker’s Room. I joined them once, but became so overwhelmed with nicotine cravings that I had to leave and join the non-smokers in the cafeteria from then on. Maggie was on the Modern Studies course I was doing and as a non-smoker was a part of the group of people I would now chat to during breaks. Fifteen and a half years later and Maggie and I are still together, deeply and powerfully in love.
As an ex-smoker I have sympathy for those who are trying to kick the habit, but in this day and age, with the full knowledge of the lethal aspects of tobacco known to everyone, I have no sympathy for anyone idiotic enough to start smoking, or to take some kind of senseless pride in feeling that it is their right to not only poison themselves, but to poison anyone within breathing distance of them. I certainly have a lot of sympathy with the views expressed in this article Tobacco - the stupidest f***ing drug in the universe.