Giving up smoking


Age at interview: 39

Brief outline: Peter, 39, gave up smoking 16 weeks ago. Peter is Norwegian, works as lecturer and is married. He started smoking when he came to the UK to study. Some years later, Peter gave up after two attempts with the help of a programme from Boots. He has also used a phone app called ‘Since I Quit’ to monitor his progress.

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Peter started smoking in his mid-late 20s and smoked until his first attempt at stopping, which was in his mid thirties. He stopped for two years but then started again, and stopped for the second time in his late 30s. He thinks that he has probably been smoking for about 10-12 years in total. Peter says that he went to a lot of rock festivals in his youth (which he spent in Norway) but that he never smoked. It was only when he was a student in the UK that he tried smoking pot. The first time he started smoking tobacco was when he was doing his PhD. At the time that he was smoking a lot of pot he says he found it ‘difficult to maintain [the necessary] brain activity’ so he just ‘transferred to smoking [tobacco]’. Looking back he doesn’t know whether starting smoking was part of a ‘new life’, a ‘cosmopolitan life’, or ‘something silly like that’. He says that back then there was a more ‘social aspect’ to smoking that he thinks doesn’t really exist anymore. He found that smoking just tobacco was ‘less unhealthy’ than smoking pot, which he says ‘rips into your lungs’ and ‘messes with your head’. When he started smoking for the second time, he started smoking ordinary cigarettes – as opposed to roll ups – and this made it feel as though he wasn’t going back to the ‘old habits’. He now comments this was ‘self-delusion’. He soon found it cheaper to buy rolling tobacco and he thought it was nicer.

Looking back, Peter now thinks he told himself that he was addicted to nicotine, but actually he found smoking itself had lots of positive associations that he isn’t wasn’t rid of. When he was smoking, he says he didn’t feel the need to ‘justify’ smoking, he just ‘did it’. However, smoking was then banned in public places, and he found that fewer and fewer people were smoking, so that the ‘social aspect’ had gone, which left him with just his ‘habit’. He found his lungs got ‘phelgmy’ and that if he was lazy with his ashtrays he was reminded how much he smoked. He talks about the ‘drudgery’ of the addiction and the fact that he just wanted to stop. Peter would sometimes cut down and just have a couple of cigarettes a day, but those cigarettes he says would be ‘brilliant’. He now thinks that cutting down didn’t work and that he was still in the ‘tricks’ and ‘snares’ of the addiction. The most difficult thing he found about giving up was losing the ‘structuring device’ for having a break in his day. The second time he stopped he was aware of this issue so it wasn’t such a ‘big problem’. Experimenting with nicotine patches, he felt he was able to dissociate the mental and the physical need. The first time he stopped, the nicotine replacement gum made him feel nauseous so he just ‘cold turkeyed’ for a week and then was fine. He says that he was completely unaware of how hard it would be to give up smoking. At first he felt that he desperately needed a cigarette. The second time he had nicotine replacement patches as part of a programme of assistance. He feels the physical addiction was really ‘quite tiny’. He thought the rest of his addiction was bound up with the ‘ritual’ of smoking. He bought the ‘Boots’ programme that he describes as the ‘scaffolding’ around which to structure his giving-up attempts. He was told to set targets, a date for finishing and was offered a range of products to assist him. At the chemist, he blew into a spirometer and says that he felt dependant on products and was ‘clinging’ to them.

Peter felt that, because he mainly works from home, he needed another context in which to try and give up, and also ‘someone else to be responsible to’. He was given advice about the way the receptors worked with nicotine in his brain and also how to deal with his irritability. At this time he started training – going to the gym and jogging. He used social networks like Facebook to ‘let the world know’ he was stopping, so he was ‘responsible to someone else’. He said this makes the attempt ‘real’ because otherwise ‘it’s just an idea in your head’. Peter also has an iPhone app called ‘Since I Quit’ that he has used since the first week of quitting. The app plots the time you have stopped smoking and the money you have saved. The second time he attempted to quit he says he was much more conscious of the ‘issues, difficulties and fallbacks’, but also he was conscious that he was going to become 40 and wanted to ‘turn his life around’. He didn’t really connect his starting running with stopping smoking but did find it helpful as he was ‘doing something else instead [of smoking]’. Smoking was one part of ‘shifting [his] perspective overall’ on what he is doing and what he wants to be doing. He got work into perspective, and it is life outside of work that he now finds problematical.

Peter’s grandfather died in his 60s because of a smoking related illness, yet his maternal grandmother ‘smoked like a chimney’ and lived until she was 93. Both his paternal grandparents died of smoking-related illnesses.


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