Like most smokers, I can tell you where and when I had my first cigarettes, but I can’t really explain why. There are various reasons people take their first cigarette: peer pressure, to look good, impress someone because their friends are, they like the smell, they might have seen someone they like smoking and want to copy them, but the one common factor is “it seemed like a good idea at the time”.
We all knew it was dangerous long term when we tried our first smoke, but that one Benson and Hedges from a packet of 10 (they used to be sold in 10s) won’t hurt me on its own, will it?
Next, we were in the corner shop because another pack of 10 won’t hurt me.
Then we buy a packet of 20 because that pack “it’s not going to hurt me” and it won’t on its own, it’s further down the line in 10, 20, 30 years it will be a problem but “I’ll have stopped by then, won’t I”.
There were no smoking bans in those days.
You smoked in pubs, restaurants, at many workplaces, and upstairs on the bus; there would be a smoking carriage on a train and even hospitals, and my 6th form college had a smoking room.
Although many people who didn’t smoke didn’t like it when someone else did and quite often despised smoking, they often had little choice, as the law wasn’t on their side, and they had to rely on smokers being considerate.
Unfortunately, we’re a pretty selfish group of people.
Not long after we’d had our first cigarette, it had become our habit. When we got on the bus, we lit up; in the pub, we would go to the bar, get a drink, then light up, get to work, light up, get in the car, light up, and when we finished a meal, we would light up.
Smoking is more than just a habit though, it’s an addiction and nicotine is a drug.
At times of stress we would reach for the fag packet straight away.
It was a feeling.
We felt better.
That cigarette on our desk wasn’t going to hurt us on its own, was it?
It would satisfy the craving and make us feel better. To every smoker, lighting a cigarette is the must-do thing straight after sex. (I only mentioned this because anyone who’s read my original blog would be very disappointed if I didn’t).
Now of course smoking is banned in all public places.
The smoking ban was a success in that it made pubs, clubs, restaurants, public transport etc far more safer, cleaner, and generally more pleasant places. Non-smokers were now empowered to speak up if somebody was smoking inside. While the smoking ban did help to reduce the number of smokers, many, like me were undeterred and adapted.
Remember the day we had our first cigarette?
The rebel in us prevailed just as it did then. Everyone grows up knowing smoking is antisocial and dangerous. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we have decided to either follow the righteous path for the sake of our own and the health of others and not smoke or be rebellious.
Despite knowing we really shouldn’t, we decided to smoke.
Now we are banished to the outdoors. We are social outcasts and we must take our disgusting habits and go and stand in doorways and outdoor smoking shelters and designated areas. That little rebel streak we have now helps us to stand proudly in pub doorways and smoking areas in short sleeve shirts or short skirts in the middle of winter, puffing away while simultaneously freezing to death because although it’s cold.
That one cigarette won’t do any harm on its own, will it.
The thing with smoking areas is while it may be antisocial to non-smokers who have to walk past them, for smokers, they’re precisely the opposite. They’re a gathering of like-minded people who all have one big thing in common.
People who are doing something they want to do know they shouldn’t do it, know it’s dangerous, but who also know the pack of cigarettes in their pockets on its own won’t hurt them.
A smoking area is a place where we feel more comfortable striking up a conversation with a stranger, and it’s not uncommon for someone to spend more time in a pub smoking area than in the actual pub. Many relationships have been formed through people meeting one another in smoking areas.
A workplace smoking area is a very interesting place it certainly isn’t just a place for smoking, depending on the smoking policy of a particular company it can be a place to go to get, an extra break or a place to go to calm down if feeling a bit stressed. It’s also a hive of gossip and people will often let something slip which they shouldn’t, in the more relaxed atmosphere of a smoking area. Allegiances are formed as smokers tend to form a better understanding of each other through conversation in the smoking area and are more likely to have each others back in a meeting or on the shop floor.
A smoking area is a place to escape a feeling of being frowned upon for smoking because while beer gardens and open seating areas are places that can be frequented by both non-smokers and smokers alike, non-smokers are generally frowned upon themselves by smokers as if they visit a smoking area.
A Fridge Too Far
On Sunday September the 13th 2013 I suffered an idiopathic sudden cardiac arrest details of which I wrote about in my blog “A fridge too far” which appears in the first “Life after cardiac arrest” book.
When I was brought out of a coma I had several cracked ribs, a swollen neck and throat from an allergic reaction to a drug I had been given and I had developed mild pneumonia so it’s safe to say I wasn’t interested in a cigarette.
I was to spend the next three weeks in a hospital ward recovering while also undergoing many tests to find something wrong with me to determine the cause of my cardiac arrest; however, nothing was found, and eventually, it was accepted as idiopathic. Some of my friends did offer to help by providing a detailed list of things wrong with me, but they turned out to have nothing to do with my current condition.
Bizarrely my ward had an outside window not far away from an area used by smokers so occasionally I got the random whiff of cigarette smoke but at no point did I want one in fact it made me convinced I wouldn’t want one ever, and I happily told everyone who visited that I was never smoking again.
After 21 days I was discharged with an S-ICD fitted to go back to the real world.
My friend collected me and we headed home I asked him if he had a fag.
He said he didn’t.
I looked in his glove compartment, took out his cigarettes, and put one in my mouth. I asked him for a light, and he said he hadn’t got one. I pushed the in-car lighter down and used it to light up because this one cigarette wouldn’t hurt me on its own, would it?
Some people do stop smoking after a cardiac arrest, particularly if there is a known cause.
I wanted to go back to normal but that wasn’t going to happen.
I wasn’t going to work in my shop. I wasn’t going to go back to work in my day job for several months and even then when I did things at work would be very different. I wasn’t going to have the nights out I used to and God knows when I could drive again.
The cigarette was a bit of normal.
I knew I shouldn’t but every smoker deep down knows they shouldn’t every time they have a cigarette but that isn’t enough to stop them smoking. The hospital spent three weeks checking me over and found nothing wrong with me, not only that the doctors had confirmed smoking definitely wasn’t a cause of my SCA which in a strange way made me feel like I was ok to smoke a while longer. I needed something to help me feel normal and that cigarette wasn’t going to hurt me on its own was it.
I knew I shouldn’t keep on smoking but I also know I didn’t want to stop.
I had made or forced on me many lifestyle changes, and I needed time to adapt.
Smoking gave me a bit of normality.
I was later diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation (AF) and had to limit greatly my caffeine and alcohol intake, which I did straight away, but that next packet of cigarettes I was about to buy wouldn’t hurt me, and it was the nearest I could get to feel normal.
I did have it in the back of my mind that I would stop one day but not yet, it wasn’t a priority right now especially when I was in good health in my mind. I got many many comments from people around me but as any smoker knows if anyone tries to tell you anything about smoking or stopping smoking you either stick two fingers up or you smile pleasantly and give a little laugh while inside you’re imagining sticking two fingers up.
This is because, in reality, they’re not telling you something you don’t know; they’re telling you something that, deep down, you do know already but are choosing to ignore and hide.
In 2015, I met my wife-to-be, who was a non-smoker.
It’s very difficult for a non-smoker who has never smoked to understand anything about why someone would smoke, especially when that person is an SCA survivor. Despite how well-intentioned, no amount of nagging, asking, or telling someone to stop smoking will work. In fact, it will just make them want to smoke more, and with it will come continuous friction.
All you can really do is make it clear that you care, that you don’t like to see your partner smoking, and that should they want to stop, you will help them and support them. There really is only one person who can do anything about a person smoking, and that is a smoker themselves.
I continued to smoke, and although I still held the belief I would stop one day, I still didn’t want to, and no amount of trying by my partner would change that.
I had noticed my breathing wasn’t as good as it should be at times and I had a random cough but like all smokers, it wasn’t enough to make me stop. Then in January 2020 I got what felt like flu which affected my breathing for a few days and while it wasn’t bad enough to require medical intervention and went after a few days it was enough to make me think a bit.
I had now smoked for 30 years without even realising it.
Was now the time to say enough is enough?
I carried on but in March of the same year the world would change forever for everyone as COVID was about to hit.
My dad was in poor health and needed constant care, and I had already arranged to work from home and had stocked up on food so that we could keep ourselves isolated as we still needed to go to my dad’s.
On March 18th 2020 I counted 6 cigarettes in my packet showed them to my now wife and said “when they’re gone that’s it no more”. It just felt like this was the time I had to do it and we certainly wouldn’t be isolated if I was popping out for cigarettes every 2 days.
Eight days later we went into lockdown and I am under low illusion that my dad’s circumstances, my wifes support and COVID all made it easier to stop smoking.
Would I have stopped if it wasn’t for COVID?
I genuinely don’t know but I’m glad I did.
I’m not going to lie. It was hard at times, and even now, I still crave it occasionally and wish I could go outside for a fag, but I won’t.
After a while, I realised how wrong I was about smoking.
That there wasn’t a good feeling to smoking at all. In fact, it was the other way around. The nicotine caused me to feel bad, and all I was doing when I had a cigarette was feeling normal again.
Now, after 3 ½ years, the addiction has worn off, and I feel normal all the time – well, most of the time.
Smoking didn’t help me with stress at all like I thought, it made me stressed.
Even though I would deny it, there is always that voice in the back of the head that’s telling you its bad for you every time you light up and no matter how much you try to ignore it or forget it it’s always there and it’s actually causing stress subconsciously.
A smoker must always have enough smokes, and while it’s nice when you open a new pack of 20, you start to stress when you get down below ten because you don’t want to run out, and the lower you get, the more stressed you get until you go and buy another pack.
The habits have gone now.
I sit in my car put the seat belt on, turn the ignition same as I always did, I don’t even notice a bit missing where I used to light up. I don’t instantly reach for my pockets as soon as I leave a building.
Not going outside for a cigarette turned out to be far easier than I thought.
I don’t get cold or **** wet through every 30 minutes or so when I’m out, and there are still plenty of people inside the pubs, restaurants, and everywhere else to talk to and have a laugh with without going outside after all.
The money I have saved has been a real added bonus. Without realising it I was actually spending a small fortune just on cigarettes.
I now save whatever money I would have spent on cigarettes each month and spend it on nice things for me and my wife.
Over time, I came to realise that all the reasons I smoked and gave for not stopping were just a mindset. Over time, my mindset changed, and I now see things differently.
My mindset has changed from a smokers to a non-smokers.
It’s over 3 ½ years since I had my last cigarette; my breathing is better, I feel better, and I am so pleased it’s a part of my life that is gone for good. I did nearly falter once after seven months. The weather turned cold, and it was time to get the big coat out, which I did. I found a cigarette packet in the pocket with one still in it. In a final “seemed like a good idea” moment, I put that packet in another coat “just in case.”
Several months later I had an argument with my wife, went to my coat and got the cigarette packet out.
It was empty.
I just stood there and I cried.
I cried because that was the point when I realised just how hard it had been for my wife, seeing me smoke day in day out on top of all the other worries that come with living with an SCA survivor.
One cigarette on its own won’t hurt you, but it will hurt the people close to you because they know that continued smoking will, and it breaks their heart to watch someone they love slowly killing themselves.
I won’t be having another cigarette.