Giving up smoking


Age at interview: 35

Brief outline: Rukmini, 35, works as a lecturer. She is Indian, lives by herself and gave up smoking when she was 25. She has only smoked ‘socially’ ever since. Rukmini grew up in Goa and started smoking when she moved to Delhi to do an MA. She enjoyed smoking with friends and associated smoking with overcoming cultural taboos, since where she grew up women rarely smoked. She gave up when she moved to the UK.

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Rukmini, who grew up in Goa, said that the first time she smoked was when she went to Delhi to complete a Masters course. In the region where she grew up it was considered socially and culturally taboo for women to smoke. Nobody in her family did so, and she remembers it was only her teachers at university who smoked. She said that when she started smoking in Delhi, it was about empowerment and chatting with friends. She saw a connection between feminism and women claiming public spaces by smoking. She says smoking was at first more about ‘performance’ than enjoyment, but slowly she started to enjoy it more. She mainly smoked the brand of cigarettes favoured by Indian working class men and also smoked more expensive Indonesian cigarettes (Gudang Garam) at other times. She spent around about 1200 rupees a month on cigarettes, which was approximately a third of her income at the time.

Smoking, according to Rukmini, never felt like a ‘conscious’ decision, but just something that people ‘did’. She remembers that, when she later worked for an NGO in Delhi, women secretly smoked in the toilet. She smoked about 10-12 cigarettes a day, but could smoke up to 20-25 cigarettes in a night when she was drunk. She became annoyed that her clothes smelt of cigarettes but continued to smoke ‘because everybody else did’.

The father of Rukmini’s ex-partner died of lung cancer and, because her ex-partner was worried about the risks of smoking, they used to fight about it. Rukmini says that the reason she eventually gave up smoking was her ex-partner’s feelings on the subject. She later moved to the UK where cigarettes were ‘ridiculously expensive’, and because she was only on a scholarship her income was limited. Giving up at that time was her chance for a ‘clean break’. She quit smoking on New Year’s Eve, and says she was ‘snappy’ but just drank a lot of tea. She gave smoking up ‘as a habit’ in 2003, but still smoked occasionally when she was drunk or when there was a rollie about. Rukmini comes from a family where there were considerable heritable health risks present, such as heart disease and diabetes. However, as well as the health risks, she also thought about money and not wanting to have the ‘dependency’ on smoking.

Now, because she is employed in mental health and works with young people who have addictions, she thinks she doesn’t need any addictions in her own life. Once in a while she will smoke a cigarette, but says she doesn’t miss it and she is just ‘having a nice time’. Rukmini is now into yoga and the ‘health and wellbeing’ movement and has lost some weight. Rukmini says that she felt great after she stopped smoking and could actually walk longer without feeling out of breath. She doesn’t fear that she could ‘slip back into it’ and she feels happy without smoking. She says that there are other ways to feel good about yourself.


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