Giving up smoking is no walk in the park but it’s not as much as an asthmatic trek up Mount Everest as many former disciples of the demon nicotine would have you believe.
Mark Twain once wrote, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” And despite what factories full of self-help books, nicotine patches, and electronic cigarettes would have you believe, giving up smoking is relatively easy. In many ways, it takes a lot more perseverance and tenacity to pick up the habit than it does to actually kick the fags into touch.
If you smoke or have smoked, cast your mind back to the the first time you pressed one of those peculiar sticks to your lips and sucked. It wasn’t a pleasant experience was it? I remember my first taste of tobacco and its 4,000 plus different chemicals, and it wasn’t an experience of pure unbounded joy. It wasn’t even mildly distasteful. It was, to put it bluntly, horrific.
I was nine or ten, and after being pulverized to a pulp by peer pressure, I took my place in a ritualistic circle of five school friends whose self-will and freedom of choice had, like mine, all but crumbled in the face of the deadly dictate of the 1980s that smoking was what all the cool kids did.
I felt anything but cool as the half-smoked ciggy was passed in my direction from my watery-eyed, red-faced brother-in-arms, who managed to wheeze a half-hearted, “Here you go,” before handing me the Benson he had stolen from his dad’s secret stash.
The red eye of the Benson seemed to wink at me with undisguised demonic glee as like a man walking to the gallows I closed my eyes and inhaled with all the fury and might my little undeveloped lungs allowed and then…. Bang!
The tobacco instantly filled up my senses, but not like a night in a forest, the mountains in springtime or a walk in the rain, but in a bad way, a very bad way. My chest hurt, my stomach churned, my head swam, my throat burned, and my eyes watered, as my blood rioted through my veins trying to rid itself of this strange and unwelcome guest.
Needless to say, my friends and I all put on an impressive and ‘adult’ front and nodded our heads sagely as we smoked as if we were lounging idly in a gentlemen’s club savoring a rare and expensive blend of finest Virginia. No doubt, inside, they were probably feeling as torn and worn and like me, and asking themselves, “Why the hell do people pay good money to do this to themselves?” Whilst appreciating the inherent wisdom of the classic Superman “Never Say say yes to a Cigarette” TV ads we were exposed to on a daily basis featuring the arch villain Nick O’ Teen.
After my first cigarette, I didn’t smoke another for years and went on to actively loathe it, until my early twenties, where occasionally after a few drinks, it began to feel rude to decline a cigarette when offered. In the misguided haze of numb intoxication, having a tobacco stick dangling from your lips and pretending to inhale seemed like a disguise more than a few non-smokers were fond of.
Of course, when you pretend to inhale enough times, you actually inhale quite a bit, and before you realize it, you’re not only inhaling the smoke but really enjoying and craving it to. And from then it’s just a small step from smoking only after the third drink, to smoking with the first drink, to smoking all the time. Which is what happened.
For me, becoming a smoker was a slow, insidious, and rather boring process. When you wake up one morning and find yourself looking forward to the first smoke of the day with your cup of coffee, that’s when it becomes slightly depressing no matter how you want to dress it up.
You find yourself forever thinking in terms of when you can have the next cigarette, and before you know it,you find yourself on an endless carousel which goes something like this – I’ve done something physically strenuous, I’ll have a fag. I’ve eaten a nice meal, I’ll have a fag. I’m slightly stressed, I’ll have a fag. I’ve woken up, I’ll have a fag.
Oscar Wilde once wrote, “A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied.” And that pretty much sums up the whole addiction of smoking in a nutshell.
Smoking doesn’t make you happy or relaxed, it turns you into a pathetically dependent, chemically crazed hot-head who will fall to pieces if they don’t get the puff they need to get them through the day.
It took me a long tome to appreciate this and finally knock the fags on the head. Instantly, I felt a whole lot worse. My chest was painful, my throat was sore, my thinking was muddled, my head was light, my energy levels were nonexistent, my mood was bleak, and my temper was that of a particularly volatile four-year-old.
Yet with the exception of a few relapses, I finally conquered the habit. And how? Mind power! As the godfather James Brown what said, “What it is, is what it is! You gotta deal with it!”
As soon as you view cigarettes as the enemy or a demonic parasite determined to possess you at the expense of your health, then giving up smoking becomes a war. And it’s a war you have to win for the sake of both pride and sanity.
After the first two weeks, the physical side-effects began to diminish, and then it was just a question of staying strong in the mind and fighting the mental battles that the tobacco toad loves to play.
And it’s true what they say. After giving up smoking you’ll feel a whole lot better about yourself in more ways than one. But better than all the physical benefits is the satisfaction of a war waged and won, and the feeling of liberation after being too long a prisoner to what is in effect a dangerous drug.
Giving up smoking to me seemed a lot easier and rewarding than actually starting out on the tobacco road in the first place, but I’d be a Billy Liar if I didn’t acknowledge that once in a blue moon I still long for the sensation of pulling on a cigarette and savoring the smoke as it hits the back of my throat and lungs like a velvet sledgehammer.
All said and done however, there’s no secret trick to giving up smoking, it’s just a simple decision that you have to make and stick to. After all, you put in the hard yards to acquire the habit in the first place, so be prepared for a rocky ride when it comes to stubbing it out. Now take a deep breath and go for gold, but obviously not of the Virginia sort.
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)