Saturday, November 26, 2011

Giving up smoking

Comment:: I wrote this post originally because I thought that some some type of public statement would actually help me, because I thought that the issues were important. I then pulled it because it was actually a bit personal, risked being misinterpreted. I then decided to reinstate it because of its original intent.
Some two months ago I decided to give up smoking. I did not wish to do so.

Many of the happiest memories of my life are associated in one way or another with cigarettes or my pipe: social occasions, smoking a pipe by the fire, a cigarette to celebrate a success. I have also used cigarettes to aid thinking, both sitting and walking along smoking.

I have also enjoyed the conversation of other smokers, and the information obtained, in those ghettos gatherings that we smokers are now condemned too. As a trainer, I consciously used my desire to smoke as a way of creating breaks in sessions and in getting feedback as smokers and indeed non-smokers wandered outside with me. I am also counter-suggestive, deeply resenting the increasing prescriptive and coercive forms prescribed by the anti-smoking bigots that have turned smoking from a social to a drug culture, actually damaging the health of smokers in the process.

I have known for some time that I could give up smoking. I can go for considerable periods without a cigarette on, for example, international plane flights. I have noticed how my smoking drops, more than halves, on holidays when I am relaxed, swimming or walking. I have also noticed how my smoking sky-rockets when I am under tension. I go from five or six a day when on holidays to perhaps twenty when I'm in my normal life up life but relaxed up to forty or fifty a day when under severe tension.

I finally decided that I must give it all up for a number of reasons.

Part of the reasons for this were health and direct enjoyment. To understand this, and very few non-smokers do, you have to understand what the anti-smoking prescriptions have done to the way people smoke.

When I first started smoking, smokers would light a cigarette, take a draw and then put it down. A twenty a day person would actually smoke perhaps half or less of a cigarette in terms of direct smoke into the lungs.  Smokers actually looked down on what were then called chain smokers, people who lit several cigarettes in a row, smoking each very quickly.

Today, all we smokers have been turned into what what might be described as serial chain smokers.

 Huddled outside in breaks, we smoked fast and often have two quick ones before rushing back inside. Not only did more smoke from each cigarette go into the lungs, but the smoke from the previous draw would still be there when the next lot came in. A twenty a day pack person was now not only doubling actual inhalation, but was concentrating it into powerful bursts.

I first noticed that my tongue was getting a black coating in 1999. By then, I had been smoking for over thirty years without that side-effect. I found out by accident. I saw a photo of me talking with a black coated tongue out. I also found out, although this was a slower process, that it was affecting my teeth in a way that had not occurred with my parents or their friends even though they smoked the same as or (often) more than me in terms of cigarettes per day.
The tongue is probably a pretty fair measure of the impact of smoke on the lungs. I suspect that in twenty years' time, epidemiological studies will show that while the rate of smoking related diseases has declined on average with the growing number of smokers, smoking related diseases actually increased among those who did smoke as a consequence of the anti-smoking campaigns.
I had been thinking about giving up smoking for some years since I was conscious of the impacts of changed smoking habits. I was also enjoying it less. Indeed, I actually did give it up several times.

As I said, one of my problems in maintaining this was my personal response to the increased controls. I really didn't want to give up smoking just to be a good boy. I also still enjoyed it.

Like many smokers, I went for lower tar, lower nicotine cigarettes, although past a certain point I found that this increased the number of cigarettes smoked. I also tried to reduce the number of cigarettes I smoked a day, and started smoking a pipe again. Smoking a pipe has different pattern with less drawback. And I do find a pipe so relaxing!

As an aside, I still don't understand why anti-smoking campaigns don't incorporate a harm minimisation element along the lines of if you must smoke, then here are ways of reducing harm. But then, most anti-smoking campaigns are designed by non-smoking zealots who see things in the simplest black and white terms.
Finally, personal reasons dictated a decision that I should give up completely.

I have found this remarkably hard, and not just because of the addictive effects of nicotine. As I said, I know that I can go without smoking for considerable periods. During the last two months since I decided to give up, I have gone for as much as a week without a cigarette.

My problem is that smoking is so entwined with my patterns of enjoyment and behaviour, with my very performance, that giving it up has quite significant effects. I found myself, for example, thinking about a problem and then, because I couldn't smoke, trying to find a behaviour substitute that would have a similar focusing effect. My personal productivity dropped. I also became more difficult to live with.

Let me give an example.

Say I am in a tense personal discussion. I used to be able to say, let me have a  cigarette and think about that or gather my composure. This is acceptable because, as a smoker, your addictions are known. It's actually much harder to say I need to have a walk and will come back to you. It's harder still if you do smoke because you actually want a smoke.

Why am I sharing all this with you in such a public way?

Well, it's partly that I want to make a point about the nature of the anti-smoking campaigns. It's more that having decided to give up, this is actually best done in public because it probably makes it easier. I also think that there needs to be more discussion among smokers about the issue and approaches adopted towards us.

How do we manage this?

Non-smokers really don't understand. Too many ex smokers become zealots. Both non and ex smokers become absolute pains in the arse on the question. There has to be a middle way.


Neil said...

Congratulations, Jim. Better than doing it in the cardiac ward as I did.

Jim Belshaw said...

Tahnks, Neil, although you know that I don't quite share your views!

Neil said...

I do know, but the point is there is nothing but benefit from giving up smoking.

Harm minimisation? Smokeless cigarettes, or those electronic ones perhaps?

Jim Belshaw said...

Hei, thinking about my comment it was insensitive in the extreme, I totally support your decision to give up, I understand why. A

t the moment, I am dealing with the personal costs of giving up smoking for possible gains, as well as the policy approaches. It may be that I benefit but, for reasons why I won't bore you with, I am really not sure about the benefits.

Jim Belshaw said...

Neil, sorry about the typos in the comment.

Evan said...

I've never smoked - probably because it wasn't the done thing in my peer group growing up.

I think the way smokers have been treated is appalling.

I'd like to see the same zeal for say exhausts from cars.

I usually say something like, "Oh yes, it breaks up families, increases the road toll and so on - oh that's alcohol isn't it? I wonder why the campaign isn't about that!"

I like your thought about why a harm minimisation approach isn't adopted.

I hope that you feel giving up is a net benefit.

Rummuser said...

Jim/Neil, I can see where both of you come from. I am more in tune however with Jim than Neil, who I know is celebrating his success and is an inspiration.

I smoke 7 to 10 cigarettes a day. Mostly 7 and the other three on days which either are stressful in some ways or, I have good company of smokers. I also give up completely for three to six months at a time when I find that my need exceeds the norm of around 7/8 cigarettes a day.

A month before my surgery, I stopped and a month after the surgery I restarted. I have no other vices; I don't drink any kind of alcohol, I don't chase women, no woman is chasing me, I am a vegetarian and deeply spiritual. I meditate as often as I can find the time and most certainly twice a day and exercise regularly.

I have been smoking now for 54 years and have had no ill effects as yet. All the tests done prior and post surgery have given me a super clean chit and frankly, I do not see any reason why I should stop on a permanent basis.

Yes Jim, non smokers do not understand but I accommodate their aversion to smoke, for instance my father's, by smoking in the verandas of my home or where the smoke does not affect anyone else near by.

I enjoy each cigarette. I really do.

Jim Belshaw said...

Like you, Ramana, I try to exercise what we might call good manners in smoking.

One of my difficulties as a smoker is that because I use it as a tension release, my smoking rises with tension. It is hard for me to keep it at 6/7 per day. Actually, this is where a pipe is good.

The link between smoking and tension release, the way my smoking climbs when I'm tense, is part of the reason why I need to give up. However, it's also part of the reason why it's hard to give up.