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The Smoking Diaries 2: A Journey To Quitting

Artwork by Anna Jay.
Things have been going well. Since I last checked in, my idle fingers have not so much as touched a bag of tobacco. In fact, I’ve probably forgotten how to roll altogether. When people offer me a cigarette in the pub, I bat them away, saying, “Haven’t you heard? I’ve quit,” before I emit the virtuous cough of the ex-smoker, so sensitive am I now to the very same odour that used to be my signature scent.

I am, of course, kidding. While I wasn’t exactly confident that I was going to report back with good news, I thought I might have done better than I did. But my resolutions evaporated faster than Tom Hiddleston’s chances of playing Bond.

There has been one small victory – and I’m talking really quite miniscule here ­– and that is that I’ve managed to stop smoking at work. OK, that’s only saving myself two cigarettes a day (one after lunch, another around 4pm) but I’m pretty happy with this. If smoking’s sexy image arose from black-and-white shots of Brigitte Bardot posing with a Gauloise draping from her lips, then one of the daftest images of smoking must be chuffing outside the office with co-workers, or, even worse, alone. So I hope I can keep this up.

When I interviewed Professor Robert West, Director of Tobacco Studies at Cancer Research UK’s Health Behaviour Research Centre, a couple of years ago about his book The SmokeFree Formula: A Revolutionary Way to Stop Smoking Now, he told me that people who don’t smoke very much, or not even every day, often find it hard to quit because of the way nicotine works (which isn't about having withdrawal symptoms), but because it creates an association in your brain between smoking and certain actions. He told me:

“You smoke because the nicotine you have been inhaling for all those years has changed your brain chemistry to create powerful urges to smoke. The urges come about because every puff on a cigarette sends a rapid nicotine hit to the part of your brain that makes you do things, creating an association between the drug and the action.”

That’s basically why people crave a fag when they have a glass of wine, or, say, they walk the dog. It's about routine. And that’s why I’m happy, so far, to have managed to break the bond between afternoons at work and smoking.

I have far to go. But I have learned some things in these first couple of weeks of at least trying to stop.

Smoking in summer is the best
It makes no sense that as soon as the mercury rises, and you start to feel a bit hot and bothered, that you’d want to fill your body with actual smoke, but that’s just the way it is. Again, I blame old photos of Brigitte Bardot on the French Riviera. I wish I was trying to quit when it was 5°C outside and I had a runny nose. Surely that’s easier?

I mark time in cigarettes
One of the worst days I’ve had over the last fortnight, in terms of cigarette consumption, was during a work ‘away day’, which essentially was a series of meetings. I found it impossible to not smoke in the 10-15 minute breaks in between. It’s the same if I’m waiting for a bus. My killing time is killing me.

I must have a cigarette before I get on a plane
It was only a short flight to Italy, but I couldn’t bring myself to walk past the hideous smoking area outside Gatwick without having one last puff. The hours stretched ahead of me and I panicked: two hours in the airport, another two on the plane, further time faffing the other end. Best to just have one, I figured. I did not enjoy it.

It’s really hard and I have no self-control
I probably should have seen this coming.

Oh and I know what you must be thinking by now: why on earth are you carrying around cigarettes with you at this point anyway? Would you accept that I found them? Thought not. Well, it stops here. No more emergency stash. And it’s probably time to think about getting a bit of help. I’m not doing so well on my own.

Read the previous instalment of The Smoking Diaries here.