Some claim that once a smoker always a smoker. I quit ten years ago and I wish I could honestly say that I've never looked back. Even now there are moments I'd love nothing more than a nice glass of red wine and a Marlboro Light. Mmmm, delicious! Sometimes, when a stranger sparks up on the street, I have to fight the urge to walk directly behind them to inhale a few free fumes. I watch intently, with envy, as my smoker friends get their hits. Occasionally I'll hover close by, hoping to absorb a few stray strands of smoke. I know, you're tutting, aren't you?
In many ways being a smoker was written in the stars for me. It was my destiny. I come from a family of smokers. I've been a passive smoker from the age of, well, birth. As a teenager I detested cigarettes but this was short lived. One drunken night at university I convinced myself that a wee puff wouldn't hurt. That was it. I was 17 and I was hooked. I have to say, I was pretty talented at smoking too; I quickly developed a 30 a day habit. I had a cigarette first thing in the morning and last thing at night. They were my best friends! As an exchange student living in Norway I loved nothing more than a relaxing afternoon spent drinking strong coffee, writing long letters to friends back home, lamenting lost love or planning the next adventure, all the while lighting up one after another. Good times I tell you.
Breaking up was never going to be easy but it was inevitable. After all, I'm a health conscious woman. As I entered my 20's, I actually began to consider the grave consequences of my actions. Plus, using mugs as ashtrays wasn't acceptable anymore. It was revolting. I was frustrated, planning my life around cigarettes. Did I have enough to last the day? God forbid, what if I ran out? One tipsy night, while rummaging through an ashtray hoping to find a butt that still had some tobacco left in it, I decided that enough was enough.
Oh how I wish it had ended there. You see, as I had nurtured a nice little addiction, it made sense for me to get professional help. I went to my GP and as is routine, I was offered nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). I opted for lozenges. Now, once you push past the strange taste and gritty sensation, these little white mints give you a decent hit, a pleasant rush. Just like that I swapped one bad habit for another, quite literally. Only nicotine lozenges and chewing gum are entirely guilt free, right? With that in mind, I started consuming at a record pace. My body was getting more nicotine, the addictive substance contained in cigarettes, than ever before. I polished off packets of the stuff as though they were sweets, no joke, like they were Polo Mints!
I always knew I was breaking the rules. You're supposed to wean yourself off the stuff over a matter of weeks. Like that was ever going to happen. For me, weeks became months and months became years. Some experts claim nicotine is more addictive than heroin. I've never been tempted to test the theory but I can well believe it. Smokers are encouraged to quit in their droves, using nicotine. The first batch is on the NHS and then you're on your own? Ok then.
So increasing numbers of people are giving up a filthy dangerous habit and nicotine companies are making money hand over fist. That's win win, right? Yet nicotine replacement therapy is as a difficult to quit as smoking is. NRT is only meant to be used for a brief period. The ramifications for long-term use on our health are dubious, surely? Does anyone really know? Does anyone care? I've asked a lot of questions over the years to qualified health care professionals. No one has given me a satisfactory answer.
Unlike hard drugs, there is no support available I'm aware of, no advisory service for weaning yourself off nicotine. You're on your own, all by your-nicotine dependent-self. I'd regularly pop to the chemists to replenish my stock and pharmacists would ask me "so how are you getting on with these?" After a while I got bored of telling them the embarrassing truth, of having the same conversation about swapping nicotine gum with normal chewing gum over and over and over again. Yawn. I'd simply lie and say "I'm doing fine thanks, fingers crossed and isn't it better than smoking," to which they would always agree.
Running out of nicotine filled me with acute fear and I have gone to extreme measures to obtain it. I have driven for miles through the night to find somewhere that sells it. Please don't judge me. Of course I tried to come off it. I really did! Withdrawals were dreadful and left me moody and depressed. They weren't worth it. I felt so alone battling this nicotine addiction of mine and my desire for it far outweighed any concerns I had for my health.My loving husband desperately tried to help by rationing me but I lied to him and squirreled away my own secret stash. I became a pro at sucking on a lozenge and talking at the same time without anyone knowing, even on camera. Overall I spent far more money on nicotine than I ever did on cigarettes. I dread to think how much.
I have monitored the nicotine lozenge stock on the shelves of my local supermarket. It is depleted regularly. I know for a fact there are more people out there who are also dependent on this stuff! It's an addiction that's not discussed openly or often. It's trivialised. This really bothers me. I worry too that we're readily encouraging a generation to enjoy electronic cigarettes. They aren't toys; they create very real addictions and the true consequences might only be uncovered decades from now. Who knows.
Anyway, this is just my story and here's how it ends. I always said that I would give up nicotine if I became pregnant. After ten years of being hooked that's exactly how it went down. I am now officially clean! There was no choice. I vowed that I would never pass on this addiction to my child. I was so ill in the early stages of pregnancy that I didn't even miss it. I really can't believe I am writing this as an ex-addict. I am very proud to say that nicotine is firmly in my past, though there'll always be a part of me that will yearn for it. I will always be a smoker, even though I'll never touch a cigarette again.