Just a few days after the publication of a study in #ekathimerini concluding that 15,000 Greeks a year die from smoking, here is another contribution from John Aitch – which will hopefully inspire some more people to kick the habit.
I stopped smoking every 20 minutes for 20 years.
But the first time I seriously gave up I was 15.
One of the guys on our street corner had just nipped a Woodbine and stuck it behind his ear (another pal singed his Elvis sideburns doing that). Anyway, this guy on the corner, he said Senior Service donated a penny off every packet to the Vatican. Well, there was no way I was subsidising the Pope, so I took a last deep drag and announced I was done with cigarettes.
‘Why not just get your old lady to buy you Woodies?’ said the boy with the nip, relighting after it had been out for all of 30 seconds.
‘That’s not the point. I’ve been promising her for ages. You’ve just given me a good enough reason to chuck them.’
Mum was delighted. Three whole days passed before I badgered her into getting me 10 Kensitas.
Another time I lasted a lot longer. Nearly five weeks. I was chatting up a student nurse at a party, telling her how well I was doing in kicking such a filthy disgusting habit and me only 23, when she said, ‘So what’s that in your hand, then?’
A Benson & Hedges. A month off it and I hadn’t even realised I’d accepted a fag and lit up again.
Nicotine’s a powerful addiction. How many other drugs can you experiment with for a couple of minutes aged 13 and get a habit lasting the rest of your life? But that’s what it is, a habit. Nothing physical about it. It’s a mental dependency. A very powerful one.
I tossed away a lot of packets before I finally kicked it, aged 38. So how did I do it? Well, to be honest, I didn’t really mean to give up forever.
I’d started jogging because I wanted to ‘run’ the Glasgow Marathon. Regular exercise makes chain-smoking difficult… though I did have one before I went out each morning and another before I got in the shower.
In July, 1985 I was having to tackle serious distances if I was going to manage 26 miles in eight weeks’ time. I had to get off the fags somehow.
I was in nice clean Canada on holiday and started sniffing ashtrays to try to put myself off tobacco. Then I resolved not to buy the 200 duty-free. Being a Scotsman with short arms and deep pockets, that gave me a good reason not to buy any. This was in the days when a month’s fags didn’t need a second mortgage.
I handed the remains of my last packet of Number 6 Kingsize to my son and asked him to give me them back when I crossed the finishing-line. I did and he did… and I threw them away.
Now I was a real non-smoker. And that’s when the mental problems started.
At first I wanted one all the time. Couldn’t concentrate, got short-tempered with everyone, particularly smokers. When the need eased off a bit it would return with a vengeance after meals. So I kept eating to stave off the pangs. No wonder we put on weight for a while.
I found the best way to tackle my mental problem was to share it with someone. Not just anyone — someone who’d travelled the same rocky road.
I phoned Peter. He’d given up two years before and identified with every hurdle I faced. He called them ‘associations’. One time I was driving from London to Glasgow about six months after I’d given up and the urge for a fag came on so strong that I pulled in at a service-station and called him.
‘You used to do that journey regularly. This the first time as a non-smoker?’
‘There you go, then. Get back in the car and leave your addiction in the motorway cafe.’
Another time I was in a bar and hadn’t played Pool for a year. Three shots in, my right hand fumbled behind me for an invisible fag. I’d always smoked playing snooker and pool, but knowing the association killed the urge.
So if you’re hooked and you don’t want to be, you could try picking a Giving Up Day (soon) and have a real go at getting off it.
But don’t forget to Phone A Friend.
John Aitch, is a retired international journalist who commutes between a rented flat in Kalyves and his cottage in Scotland.