The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Giving up Smoking – Part One

The new ban on smoking in public places came into force in Scotland on Sunday. In my view this is a damn good idea: I don’t see why I, my wife, my children or anyone else should be exposed to other people’s cancer inducing, stinking smoke, just so that they can express their freedom to be addicts. With this in mind it seemed like an ideal time to reminisce about my nightmare experience of giving up smoking.

It’s a long post so I’ll split it into two starting with the background story, and the next post will go into how I actually went about it

Unlike most smokers, I actually went right through school avoiding the habit; in fact I was a well-known non-smoker. But when I left school I was recruited onto a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) where I sat around, eight hours a day in an Estate Agent’s, waiting for something to do. The highlight of the day was making the coffee, just because it occupied my time for a few sweet moments. 12 years of primary and secondary education just hadn’t prepared me for the sheer levels of utter boredom that “employment” had in store for me.

The government paid me £25 per week to not be included in their unemployment statistics while my “employer” wasn’t going to waste any of his precious time in actually involving me in anything.

One lunchtime, two months in, I met up with an old friend from school and we went for a cuppa. Just before she lit up, she offered me a cigarette. I naturally declined, but in the way a teenager will she nagged me, insisting that I should join her for a fag*.

Right at that point I felt low, I couldn’t be bothered to put up with the hassle, so I took the cigarette from the packet just to shut her up.

Oh boy was it good! Oh yes! This was just what I needed: a nicotine rush and a lung full of smoke and I was hooked. It felt like I’d been waiting 17 years just for that cigarette.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t start full time smoking straight away. To begin with I just enjoyed the shock value when people who knew I didn’t smoke would jokingly offer me a cigarette; I loved the look on their faces when I took it and lit up. Then I would only have the occasional one when I was at the pub, to be sociable, you know how it is. Of course, it was a bit rude to just take other people’s and never offer any of my own, so the occasional packet I bought was about playing fair and not being a scrounger. It wasn’t like I was addicted or anything. I knew full well that I could quit at any time.

7 years later I was on about 30 to 40 a day, rolling my own. I had tried giving up a few times, but never got beyond 2 hours. Within that time the craving would become unbearable, my emotions would be haywire, sometimes my eyesight would go funny and my skin would become hyper sensitive. I felt like absolute shit and knew that one little cancer stick would make me feel fine again. So I would give in, with the thought that I could always tackle it at a later date when I felt stronger.

Giving up smoking, or any addiction, isn’t about will power: it’s about motivation. If I offer you £5 to give up chocolate (or your drug of choice), then you’ll tell me where to go. If I were to offer you a million, you would find a way to do it. Likewise, knowing that if you failed to give up chocolate would result in a punch in the arm, you’d put up with the discomfort of the bruise, but if failing to leave it alone would result in the death of a loved one, then you would find a way to quit. With the right level of motivation you will put up with any level of pain, discomfort or even the loss of your own life.

Motivation is an individual thing; you have to find the right kind for you. The health argument didn’t really work for me in my early twenties; in fact, if you were to show me a picture of a dissected, tar-covered lung, then I’d be quickly reaching for the tobacco to calm my nerves. Mind you, I think if I’d been more aware of the dangers of passive smoking back then, that might have worked as a motivator. I certainly would have baulked at the idea that my habit could be harming other people. However, this was 4 years before the high profile case of TV presenter and entertainer, Roy Castle, who died of a smoking related lung cancer, even though he’d never touched one himself. The issues for me giving up were all around the notion of control: the idea that this inanimate chemical had such a hold over me was intensely infuriating.

There were a few things going on my life at the time, which contributed to this feeling of lack of control in my life. My plans on creating a career in music were going nowhere; the group of friends I had built up were all disappearing to different corners of the country; and most of all, my sister had been beaten black and blue by her partner several months earlier. For long and complicated reasons that I might write more about one day, the fact that I was prevented from wreaking bloody and vicious revenge on the guy left me feeling frustrated and powerless. The fear of losing a grip on the rage within caused me to stop drinking alcohol, stop partaking of an assortment of recreational drugs, and even coffee had started to taste like black sludge. Tobacco and nicotine, though, were proving harder to gain control over.

Tune in for Part 2 later this week.

*Yes I do know what a fag is in Americanese, but I’m not American


Monstee said...

Kim, Kim, Kim, Kim, Kim!
Excellent post!
The more me read about you the more me can relate. At ripe old age of 18 me was still one of few that would regularly preach evils of smoking. Then at one late night gaming session that included some drink and thing, some of me buddies lit up.
"Why?" me asked, and began preaching the cancer, emphysema, black lung and stink. One friend says
"Monstee, you just don't know the good side of smoking."
"And me never will!"
"Don't knock it till you tried it!" That's what got me. Me didn't want to be a hypocrite. Me thought that if me just manage to get through one of the horrid things me could go back to preaching health and better breath. One puff... nothing. Two puffs... WOAH!! OK. Me understand good side of smoking.
Shock value on peoples faces when you bum a cig off them? Me know it well. When me was smoking 5 a week me buy me first pack. It last a month. 3 years later me up to half pack a day and 3 years after that, 2 packs a day. It am very east to be seduced and converted by them devil sticks.

Anonymous said...

I had the 'benefit', in my youth, of watching my mother smoke a pack or two a day.
I then got to watch her and my step-father go through the quitting process.
So I never started.

Ask me if I could quit my videogame and snack addiction, though....

Charlie said...

Ah, Kim. I started smoking as a youth, although my Mom beat the hell out of me when she found out, but I never learned the lesson.

And here I sit this morning, dying of emphysema.

Kim Ayres said...

Monstee - So are you still smoking or did you find a way to kick the wicked weed? Or will you only reveal thatafter my next entry about how I quit?

SafeTinspector - My father had the 'benefit' of waking up every morning as a child to his father's hacking cough. Eventually my grandad died of lung cancer. Needless to say my father was never happy that me, my brother and my sister all took up smoking, and I'm the only one who quit.

Kim Ayres said...

Admiral - Had to look up emphysema on Wikipedia. Fortunately I learned how to copy and paste at a young age, as I'd never have remembered how to spell it.


OK Charlie, we've known each other for a wee while, and swapped several comments - must be four weeks or more now, which in blogland is just about long enough to call you a friend - so I'd like to ask your advice.

I was caught by surprise by your comment and have sat here for quite some time, staring at the screen, trying to figure out how to respond: light hearted quip? sympathy and understanding? burst into floods of tears? And I can't think of how to effectively get away with any of them without coming across as really glib or trite.

So I want to ask you, Charlie, what kind of response do find it easiest to hear? I don't want to cause offence, and I don't want to ignore it either, but my experience in the world hasn't equiped me for an appropriate response.

It's a bit like this for some people who find out that my daughter has DS - they don't know how to react. Once I tell them that they just need to treat her as an 8 year old girl, they loosen up and it's no longer a problem.

I know how to cope with someone telling me their child has special needs, but I don't know how to react when someone tells me their lungs are shot. Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

Charlie said...

Kim: I did put you in an awkward position--I have only mentioned my illness once on my blog, and I was reticent to do it then. Mainly because I neither like nor solicit sympathy.

My lung disease is, like my past alcoholism, the result of my own bad decision-making: no one forced me to drink or to smoke. I accept the consequences of my behavior, and so should you.

Perhaps a simple "I'm sorry to hear it", then, will suffice.

Thank you for your caring. And it is amazing how well we come to know each other in a few short weeks.

Kim Ayres said...

Admiral - I'm sorry to hear it. Thanks for replying :)

Gyrobo said...

*tiptoes in*


*runs away*

Gyrobo said...

Also, I can't wait for part 2. Cliffhangers make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

*mutates into Hulk*

Guuuuuur! Gyrobo smash! Rrruuuurrr!

St Jude said...

Kim, I thank you for your lead in.

Admiral. I love you dearly as a new found friend. I too have experience of alcoholism and I am also a smoker. Your words are correct. We make our choices, we take the consequences. I too am DEEPLY sorry to hear about your condition.

Kim; I believe the ban re; smoking is long past it's due date. I salute Scotland in it's lead. I hope that England will follow you soon.

Binty McShae said...

I started smoking when I was 21 out of sheer spite. After being left by my girlfriend I discovered she'd left 2 packs of B&H at my place and I thought "Not getting them back, you cow". Proved to be the most costly act of bloody-mindedness I have so far indulged in, and I smoked for a good few years (not telling how many...) with a 20 a day habit (more at the weekends) before finally thinking "stuff this" and stopping. Haven't smoked in over a year and have only once in that time had a craving, strangely almost a year to the day after stopping.

Banning smoking in bars and whatnot will benefit the non-smokers and those who only 'socially-smoke' (can't have a drink without a fag), but hardened smokers still need a place to hang out....

Just remembering the true story of the pub in Ireland after they banned smoking who got caught breaking the law by serving after hours because they were still sending folk outside to smoke... doh!

El-Branden Brazil said...

I think it is about time cigarettes are banned from public places. I am certain that you also remember visiting cinemas, restaurants and buses in the 1970s, which were basically gas chambers.

I don't want to stop people having the right to smoke, but I do think that there should be allocated places for the puffers to go, where their filthy toxins will not pollute my air and my my gorgeous, perfect body of Adonis-like magnificence.

Kim Ayres said...

Gyrobo - don't worry - should be up by tomorrow!

St Jude - I'm off to a folk session tonight. This should be the 1st time I return from one without smelling like an ashtray - I'm looking forward to it.

Binty - that's an excellent story. I heard a great one on the radio today about a guy in Australia who got done for drunk driving. Police suspected him when he clambered out of his car to go and ask them where Ayers Rock was. The 350m high rock was 100 yards away and the guys headlights were pointing at it.

Branden - Ah yes, the Adonis-like magnificance. I've always been so jealous :)

Gyrobo said...

Just imagine: when tobacco was first discovered, they thought it was good for you.

Of course, the average life expectancy was 30.

But still, science.

BStrong said...

Hey Kim,

Good post. I also smoked as a young lad but gave it up one day when I woke up and couldn't breath. I then moved on to smokeless tobacco.

I'm tobacco free now and very much in favor of the ban in public places.


Kim Ayres said...

Gyrobo - when radium was first discovered, the luminous properties meant that for a while people were using it for lipstick and painting their teeth for it's glowing effects. Then the radioactive properties were discovered, but not before many people's life span was considerably shortened

Bstrong - Good to see you back! When you say smokeless tobacco, do you mean snuff, or chewing tobacco? I saw some horrific pictures once of people with mouth cancer caused by years of chewing tobacco use.

Jayne Martin said...

Health arguments never work on 20 year olds because we all thought we'd live forever. But the vanity thing, smelling bad and having yellow teeth, that argument had promise.

Kim Ayres said...

Good point :)

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