Giving up smoking

Smoking: memories and experiences

After getting over the unpleasantness of the first few attempts, most people had begun to enjoy smoking. They often had good memories and associations with the times when they had smoked. People recalled smoking with friends while sitting on the grass at school, or hanging out with friends, enjoyed the ritual with a morning cup of tea or coffee to round off a meal or when they were on the phone.

What people thought of as ‘heavy’ or ‘light’ smoking varied a lot: Neil smoked 60 cigarettes a day and said that doctors couldn’t believe this when he told them, whilst Munir didn’t think his smoking was a health problem because he had ‘only’ 10-15 cigarettes a day. Cassie thought that the 10 a day she was smoking at age 13 years was ‘really a lot’.

Those who started smoking as teenagers often associated smoking with greater freedom or being ‘rebellious’ and found these things hard to give up when they thought about quitting. Later, when they decided to give up, it was often important for them to understand how smoking was part of their daily routine and why they smoked in the first place.
People often said that they didn’t remember making a ‘decision’ to smoke; it was just something that they and others around them ‘did’. Smoking often became completely ingrained in their routines; some found they couldn’t really concentrate on their work without a cigarette or relied on regular cigarette breaks. Gareth, who is an artist, would take a cigarette break to look at his work. Angela had regular cigarette breaks at the call centre where she worked.
Despite the obvious health risks associated with smoking, people could often explain why they smoked and what they sometimes continued to find appealing about smoking. Some had clear ideas about what smoking meant to them and why they had continued to smoke as adults. Some of these reasons were social, for example to give oneself something to do when feeling self-conscious; it could even be a way of meeting people. Smoking was sometimes a way to get a break at work or part of relaxing with a coffee, or getting some time for oneself.
Less positively, some people said that they used smoking as a way to help them cope with stress and bereavement, mental health problems or domestic violence.
Choice of brand

Brand image was powerful and associations were strong. While people sometimes struggled to remember public health campaigns, they could nearly always clearly remember advertisements for particular brands of cigarettes. People also spoke about the colours of packets, and older people recalled that years ago cigarettes were sold as ‘singles’ inside sweet bags, or given in exchange for recycling bottles at a shop.
The taste of different cigarettes mattered, and, whilst some people considered some brands of cigarettes too ‘strong’ or ‘harsh’, others preferred them because of this. As a teenager Laura had been thought cool because she could smoke strong cigarettes. Sue remembered that people knew whether she was in the office or not by the distinctive smell of her strong, French cigarettes. Often people stuck to a particular brand but others said that they would sometimes smoke whatever was available or whatever was cheapest – Cassie said that she had once been so desperate that she took a cigarette end out of a bin.

The amount that people smoked and their choice of brand and tobacco type sometimes changed over time. Abdul switched from cigarettes (or ‘straights’) to rolling tobacco as he thought it was ‘less harsh’ on his lungs. Haseen started on non-filter and then ‘promoted’ to filter cigarettes. Some people said they had mainly smoked tobacco with cannabis. Many of those who changed brand or switched to hand rolled tobacco did so because of cost.

Before people thought about quitting or even reducing the amount they smoked they often mentioned smoking ‘light’ cigarettes (i.e. with lower tar), or they chose menthol cigarettes.

People often tried not to smoke in front of kids or felt guilty when they did (see The role of others in the decision to quit). To limit the amount she smoked Bethan only smoked in certain areas of the house and never in her bedroom.

As time went on many people found that there were only a few cigarettes in the day that they really enjoyed, and most felt that most of their cigarettes were smoked through habit or addiction. Angela enjoyed one first thing in the morning. “And then perhaps one after tea, and then with your drink. That’s it - about two, two or three out of the 20 that you might be smoking. It’s the addiction isn’t it?” For many smoking had become a negative thing in their lives, and something they seemed almost to despise themselves for.
Also see ‘Cannabis, alcohol and coffee’, ‘Money and smoking’, ‘Cutting down’, unsuccessful attempts and trying again’ and ‘Nicotine, dependence and cravings’.

Last reviewed August 2018.


Please use the form below to tell us what you think of the site. We’d love to hear about how we’ve helped you, how we could improve or if you have found something that’s broken on the site. We are a small team but will try to reply as quickly as possible.

Please note that we are unable to accept article submissions or offer medical advice. If you are affected by any of the issues covered on this website and need to talk to someone in confidence, please contact The Samaritans or your Doctor.

Make a Donation to

Find out more about how you can help us.

Send to a friend

Simply fill out this form and we'll send them an email