This is for the smokers who want to quit but think they can't, or for those who have just given up and are not sure if they can make it.
Smokers and ex-smokers, are we in agreement that smoking makes life more bearable?
Having a bad day at work - pop out for a few minutes and have a cigarette
Arrived early to meet a friend - kill time with a cigarette
Bored at a table with dull company - excuse yourself to have a cigarette
Frustrated in a traffic jam - wind down the window and have a cigarette
Had an argument with a lover, a friend or a colleague - have a few cigarettes
It was on a recent trip in Thailand that I realised how dangerously in love with smoking I actually was and I made the vow that as soon as I returned to the UK I would kick the habit. I was travelling with a fellow smoker and every time we arrived at a beautiful spot, we would seal the moment with a cigarette. We didn't need to talk but would just inhale, exhale and marvel at the view. As well as turning to cigarettes during moments of stress, I had made smoking into something that heightened an experience. I had effectively wired my brain to want cigarettes in every possible scenario, good or bad.
Terrified of flying, I was delighted when the plane back from Thailand landed safely at Heathrow. I darted for the exit and began to rummage through my bag in search of a lighter and cigarettes to celebrate survival, but then I remembered that promise to myself, to stay alive longer. And I felt horribly empty - what was I going to do to instead to seal a moment?
It has now been six weeks and three days since my last cigarette.
This is how you can get through the first two months:
GET AN ELECTRONIC CIGARETTE (e-cigarette/e-cig)
This is not a sign of failure but a necessary step that will make quitting a lot more bearable.
As a smoker I found nothing more irritating than the smug convert to the e-cigarette and had vowed that when I quit, I would just go cold turkey. However, I had not been prepared for how bland life after cigarettes would appear and if an e-cigarette could bring back some colour, then I decided I would give it a go.
I opted for vaping and it opened up a whole new world - I had no idea that there were dedicated stores. I entered a cramped, musty room where I was invited to sit in a knackered armchair and given a menu of hundreds of flavours. Over the next half hour I inhaled everything from Latte to Banilla (Banana & Vanilla), Chocolate-Chili, Coconut and Nutmeg! The guy who ran the store wanted to know my story, right from the moment I took up smoking 15 odd years ago, to how many I smoked a day and what brand, in order to determine the strength of nicotine he should prescribe me. I left buzzing with a new gadget and five different flavours in 12mg and 6mg.
WARNING: It may taste sweet and harmless but remember it does contain nicotine so do not vape all day!
I had failed to take this into account and overdosed on my first day with my e-cig. I was embracing the fact that there are no limitations - it can be smoked anywhere, from your office to a café ...
In fact I was working from a café and when I asked the manager if I was allowed to smoke my e-cig, he looked confused, realising that he had no policy on this yet, so told me to go ahead. I was the first person to vape in his café. I chain smoked my e-cigarette for hours and it did the trick as my desire to go outside and have a "proper" smoke diminished. Despite ending up with a banging headache, I felt a great sense of triumph that I had lived another day without smoking (and by "smoking" I mean the real thing). Over the weeks I established a healthier relationship with the e-cig, learning to only rely on it for the moments when intense nicotine cravings occured.
Make no mistake, it still doesn't come close to a real cigarette. What I love about the real thing, is it creates a mini event with a start and a finish - I got great satisfaction from the lighting up of it, watching it burn as I smoked it and that it came to an end with the ritualistic stamping out of the remains. I do still live in hope that someone will invent one that functions exactly like that but doesn't cause cancer - the perfect cigarette.
In the meantime, the e-cigarette is a great invention as a device that so far shows no signs of seriously impacting on our health and will aid us through the first phase of life without the real, original cigarette - the one we all love but that will eventually kill us.
EAT WHATEVER YOU LIKE AND DON'T PANIC!
In between vaping, I found myself eating all the sugar and E numbers I could find - the lowest of the low of foods, from Angel Cake to Hairbo and Cadbury Creme Eggs.
I have an insatiable sweet tooth and I simply embraced it, knowing it was inevitable that I'd put on a few pounds. I didn't panic because I understood that, in the long run, I was protecting myself.
Indulge - eat whatever you need to eat to get over one of the most addictive habits you possibly could have found yourself with. If you're a savoury person, you could find yourself going wild with Wotsits, Monster Munch, Twiglets. Just to put your mind at rest - after three weeks of running around high on E numbers, the sugar cravings got less intense and now I can just make do with a chocolate bar a day.
KEEP YOUR HANDS BUSY
As my journey continued, it became evident that there were two crucial things - keep your mouth full (which we've dealt with), and the second is - your hands busy. A huge part of your addiction to smoking is not just the nicotine but this need to be doing something with your hands. It became clear that I had to find something else that I could get addicited to - and I mean a less evil addiction - like knitting or a computer game. With an addictive personailty, I love a repetitive app game and bored of the likes of Flappy Bird, Crossy Road, Angry Birds... I needed a new one that I could play every time I wanted a cigarette....
...AND, as if by divine providence, I was on the tube flicking through a newspaper that I found on the seat beside me (the kind I would never usually read), and came across a review of a new app game, Totter, that they proclaimed to be the most addictive app ever. I downloaded it....and I praise whoever created it for unconsciously designing an app that is actually more addictive than smoking. Now when a craving strikes, my finger tips tap away, my mind focused on nothing but keeping my quirky hand-drawn Totter character balanced and alive.
It's ridiculously challenging, with sudden gusts of wind sending the character over the cliff and at the end of each game I'm no longer craving a cigarette, instead the only thing I'm thinking about is playing again and improving my score...My energy is channelled into becoming a Totter champion!
Get focused on becoming a champion of something challenging that keeps your hands active - it doesn't matter want!
CONTINUE SOCIALISING AS USUAL
At first I couldn't see the point in going for a drink - for me part of the pleasure was a cigarette in the beer garden. However, I forced myself to go to my local as usual, because I thought that if I didn't master drinking without smoking right away, I would just have to face the challenge later anyway. So I quickly learnt how to hang out without that cigarette escape. I won't lie - it is boring, but take your e-cig with you to make it more endurable.
A very important word of advise - in the beginning, avoid getting too drunk or you will be more likely to end up following your smoker friends, but accept that you are not part of that crew anymore and have gone to the other side - salvation - where they too will inevitably struggle to come soon.
DO NOT BE SEDUCED BY "COOL" IMAGERY OF SMOKING
One of our greatest problems is that smoking is cool. Most smokers conveniently manage to put the chilling reality that it kills to the back of their mind. It's interesting that we strap ourselves in when we're in a car or on a plane, we wear a life jacket out at sea, look both ways when we cross the road - we do everything right to keep ourselves alive - yet at the same time we puff away at little carcinogen fuelled killer sticks. A large part of the reason why is because we secretly think it makes us cooler - gives us an edge. We see the iconic image of a smoking Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany's (which also happens to be one of the best selling prints of all time) and that is who we imagine we are, along with all the other icons, past and present, that keep it cool and romantic, including Kate Moss, Uma Thurman, Audrey Tautou, Bridget Jones, Carrie Bradshaw....and if you're a guy maybe you fancy yourself as a Marlon Brando, Jimi Hendrix, John Travolta, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell...
It's as if they're all part of the same campaign, spanning over decades - you're never alone when you're with a cigarette.
Avoid the seductive photography - you need to remember that it may look cool, but it will kill you in the end. I took my Hepburn image down along with a fantastic shot of a smoking Jimi Hendrix. I also advise you to avoid watching Madmen, Tarantino films and anything French.
"YOU WILL NEVER SMOKE AGAIN"
Over the last six weeks and three days, the need to discover this bizarre set of tools (comprising of an e-cig, kiddies sweets and the most addictive app game) in order to get through each day without smoking, has enforced an awareness of just how powerful cigarette addiction is and how much of my life revolved around the habit. I understand that I cannot ever have one single cigarette again, or I risk smoking for another huge chunk of my life and then going through the torturous break-up with cigarettes all over again.
The last bit of advice I impart - first make a mental commitment that you will never smoke again and then say the words out loud to someone. In fact the more people you share this with, the more likely you are to succeed as a non-smoker.
I WILL NEVER SMOKE AGAIN