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The Smoking Diaries: A Journey To Quitting

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Artwork by Anna Jay.
I certainly remember the first cigarette I ever had but it’s harder to recall the first I ever loved. That’s the strange thing about smoking: like in a cheesy rom-com, it’s difficult to work out exactly when the revulsion turns to longing.

It all began, just as with so many adolescent follies, because of a boy. I was 13 and bored at my parents’ friend’s summer party. Two brothers invited me and my pal to escape the adults' crescendoing table chatter and smoke a couple of cigarettes they had stolen. More interested in the boys than the two Benson and Hedges they’d managed to procure, we swiftly followed them down the road and into a nearby field. We sparked them up; I hated it. Fast forward 20 years and I can tell you that if I look in my handbag right now I’m packing 18 Marlboro menthols, a pouch of Golden Virginia tobacco, two packets of Rizla (green and orange), and dozens of cigarette filters that litter my bag like rodent’s tampons. My teenage quest to impress has morphed into a very real addiction.

I don’t smoke that much. If it’s a fairly humdrum day – get up, go to work, come home – I might smoke three or four. But out for drinks in the evening? Throw in another five. A day out at a music festival? Well, that’ll be a whole pack. On holiday? OK, we can stop now.

Having never tried to give up, I've watched various friends manage to quit over the years. Meanwhile I’m beginning to feel more and more like Chandler Bing in Friends his only defence of the appalling habit: “The bottom line is smoking is cool and you know it.”

So why have I suddenly decided to stop giving all my money to Philip Morris? I’m ashamed to admit, my primary concern isn’t health. It damn well should be. Smoking accounts for 96,000 deaths a year in the UK, according to ASH. It reduces life expectancy and causes just about every type of cancer going (and is behind 27% of all cancer deaths.) Those statistics scare me. But, if I’m really being honest here, my driving force is vanity.

Then there’s the money. The ridiculous, life-changing amounts of cash I’ve spent on my filter-tipped friends over the years.

Would my skin shine a little brighter without tar filling my lungs? Would the dark circles under my eyes disappear along with the carbon monoxide? Could I stop premature lines appearing around my mouth? I’m all for laughter lines as a sign of ageing but no one wants crevices that come from pulling too hard on a Camel light.

You see, I’m otherwise fit. I do exercise classes and walk everywhere. The health risks – although very real – are just not palpable to me. Yet.

Then there’s the money. The ridiculous, life-changing amounts of cash I’ve spent on my filter-tipped friends over the years. A helpful calculator on the NHS website tells me that if I stopped smoking my five cigarettes a day (much like when a doctor asks how many alcohol units you have a week, I was liberal with the truth) then I would start saving £17.50 a week, based on a packet costing £10. That’s £912.50 a year, or, in other words, a pretty fucking nice holiday. Or a month's rent. Or this dress.

Years of ill-advised puffing doesn't mean you should give up on giving up. ASH reports that British women who stop smoking before the age of 40 avoid more than 90% of the “increased risk of dying” caused by continuing to smoke (stop before 30 and that figure rises to 97%.) Three cheers to that.

OK, this is all pretty grim. And with just 4% of people succeeding to quit unaided, it's going to be tough. But what the hell, here goes. It can’t kill me, right?

Over the upcoming months, I'm going to share my journey to quitting. You can see how well (or badly) I'm doing in fortnightly dispatches, throughout which I will be experimenting with various practices and devices that may aid me.

First up, I’m going cold turkey. It’s about as appealing as the grey meat that makes an appearance on Boxing Day.
If you are looking to give up smoking, contact the NHS.
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