I loved cigarettes. I mean, really loved them. I loved everything about them: I loved buying the packet and picking the seal open on the side and opening the box for the first time.
I loved the sound of my lighter and the crackling of the tobacco as I lit the cigarette and the burn of the first breath as it went down into my lungs.
I loved the sigh as the smoke billowed out in a tight stream, unfurling and dissipating in rolling clouds.
Throughout my 20s I told myself that I would give up one day. One Day. That seemed reassuringly far away to prevent me panicking too much, but also definitive enough to fool myself into thinking I’d give up before it killed me. When I’m 30, I decided.
I loved cigarettes. I mean, really loved them. I loved everything about them: I loved buying the packet and picking the seal open on the side and opening the box for the first time
But then 30 came and went and nothing happened. It was several more years before I realised that, if I didn’t make a concerted effort, I’d be smoking until I died.
I loved smoking, but I knew it was killing me. Then, my gran and aunt died from lung cancer and this had brought on a new round of nagging from my mum about my smoking.
And then I got the cough. At about this time, there was a government campaign advising if you’d had a cough for a month, you should go to the GP as it might be cancer. I’d had my cough for five months but it wasn’t until after a family party, and my sister rang to say that this cough seemed to have been going a long time and she was worried I had cancer, that I really thought about it.
And in a moment of horrifying clarity two things happened. The first was that I realised what I, as a doctor, would think if someone sat down in front of me and told me that they’d had a cough for five months.
I’d have thought: why didn’t you come sooner and that this is likely to be something serious.
The second thing that occured to me was that even if this does turn out to be nothing, unless I decide to stop smoking, there is a high probability that at some point I’ll have a cough or other symptom and it will be cancer or another awful disease. Needless to say, I went to the GP and it wasn’t cancer.
I loved smoking, but I knew it was killing me. Then, my gran and aunt died from lung cancer and this had brought on a new round of nagging from my mum about my smoking. And then I got the cough
But I began to think that I really did need to have a good, hard think about my smoking and what I was going to do about it: did I love it enough that I wouldn’t mind dying for it?
The fact was, I was an addict. I’d spent several years working in drug addiction clinics and I was making all the kind of excuses that the alcohol and drug addicts I’d worked with over the years made — I could give up whenever I wanted, you have to die of something, I enjoy it and so on.
After 17 years of smoking between 20 to 40 a day I decided to quit. The first time I did it on a whim and after a few days when out for drinks with friends I caved in — the next day I bought a pack of 20 and carried on as before.
But I learned from this and decided the next attempt would be better planned. I investigated options online, spoke to my GP and met with a smoking cessation nurse at my surgery who used some CBT techniques to change my thinking about smoking.
With this support around me, I felt so confident about my ability to quit that I actually looked forward to the date I’d set to stop.
That was nearly ten years ago and I haven’t looked back.
Of course, in the early days it wasn’t always plain sailing. There were times when I nearly slipped up. But I was prepared for this and didn’t let it throw me off.
I personally decided nicotine replacement therapy — such as gum or patches — wasn’t for me: I used other strategies, such as jotting down on my phone the reasons I wanted to quit to remind me when I was tempted — and I’d text a friend who had already quit and who would encourage me.
Stopping smoking was one of the best things I’ve ever done. My breathing has improved, I have more energy. My skin looks brighter and I feel healthier. And of course I’ve saved tens of thousands of pounds since quitting. I don’t even think about cigarettes now. They hold no interest for me.
This Saturday is the start of Stoptober, the Department of Health and Social Care’s ‘stop smoking’ campaign (for which I am a spokesperson). This year the focus is on helping smokers build confidence: research shows that ‘self-efficacy’ plays a big part in whether a quit attempt will be successful.
‘Self-efficacy’ is self-belief that you can make the change you want — this confidence is the key to quitting and it involves feeling empowered and having the knowledge and tools at your fingertips as you prepare to make a change.
Stoptober pulls together all the support and resources available to help smokers quit. The good news is that research shows if you quit for 28 days, you’re five times more likely to quit for good.
You can get support for every day of Stoptober to help you through those 28 days — there’s a Stoptober website, a Facebook page and Facebook online communities; you’ll get emails and texts to keep you going, plus there’s an online Personal Quit Plan tool to find a combination of support that’s right for you.
If I can quit smoking, anyone can. Give it a go this Stoptober.