Paula is a member of the Service Users and Supporters Council (SUAS) of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services (SPMHS). To mark World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, Paula tells us of her experience of becoming a non-smoker and shares some advice for those who wish to give up smoking.
Giving up smoking
On 31 July this year, I will celebrate 17 years as a non-smoker. I cannot express adequately my delight and relief at this fact. In earlier years, I felt overwhelmed at the daunting prospect of becoming a non-smoker. Now that I have successfully achieved this, I am happy to share a couple of my hints to others who wish to embark on this journey themselves.
For the moment, let’s put to one side the reasons we all commenced on the perilous road to smoking. I don’t know a single smoker who is glad they started smoking. Most smokers of a certain age are worried that they smoke, and feel a little desperate that they can’t stop. The dilemma for a smoker is that their daily smoking habit accrues in ways that hugely impact on their health. The litany of health hazards is legion. However, on ceasing to smoke, the body begins to recover (partially), almost at once.
There are thousands of good reasons to cease smoking, and virtually none to continue.
Building a plan
It’s essential to have a plan to quit. I smoked 40 cigarettes per day for many years. In today’s terms, that is a weekly cost of €150. For many smokers, they are smoking their mortgage money. Heavy smokers will sacrifice almost anything to pay for their smoking habit.
A key to successfully ‘beating the weed’ is to imagine yourself for a few minutes a day as a non-smoker. Imagery is a very important tool. See yourself in your mind’s eye, as a non-smoker, and keep re-enforcing the image. Imagine, for example, yourself on a sunny day, smiling, without a cigarette, and yourself and your clothes no longer reeking of smoke. Keep seeing this image: in idle moments, on the bus, or wherever you are free to imagine it. Don’t let go of the image. This will increase your chances of quitting, because it convinces you you’ll quit.
I found nicotine replacement chewing gum essential in the armoury of ‘smoke-bashing’. At the time of my giving up, this gum wasn’t available for medical card holders. I therefore spent many thousands of punts – yes, you heard right: literally thousands! – to try and quit, even in Australia. Fortunately, almost immediately, I cut my smoking in half. This was the beginning of quitting altogether.
Another hint is to keep a record of your smoking every day. If I smoked 20 cigarettes on say, 1 July, I would aim to smoke 16 on 2 July. If I didn’t succeed in reducing by four cigarettes as planned, but reduced by two cigarettes, I considered that progress. Ridding yourself of your cigarette addiction is a work in progress. Every day, mark in on your calendar the number of cigarettes you smoked that day, and put the calendar in a place you’ll see it every day. This way you can chart your progress on a weekly or monthly basis.
Fighting the urge
The most important aid to quitting smoking completely is to fight the urge to smoke. If you feel like smoking, say ‘no’ at least half of the time. Space out the time between each cigarette, and get used to the discomfort you feel when you don’t smoke.
Long-time smokers who are trying to quit smoke for the end of their discomfort. They can struggle with the withdrawals they feel when they don’t smoke. For them, smoking may be more about a change of mood than the pleasure of smoking. They don’t want the pain or difficulty that can come with not smoking. They may smoke to feel different. The temporary relief supplied by smoking takes the cravings away, but it can compound their difficulties in trying to quit. At some point, like it or not, every quitter has to go through the wall of pain that withdrawal constitutes.
It’s a very difficult thing to do, but the good news is that many millions of people have done it! Don’t lose heart. For most smokers, giving up cigarettes takes a while. My father gave up smoking 60 cigarettes per day overnight, but that’s fairly rare. For most of us, it’s a longer process. Making the decision to quit is half the battle.
For more information, please visit:
- the World Health Organisation (WHO) Tobacco Free Initiative: Quitting Tobacco
- the Irish Heart Foundation: Ways to Live Better – Quit Smoking
For expert help, freephone the National Smokers’ Quitline on 1800 201 203 or visit quit.ie.