Brief outline: Tom, 32, gave up smoking when he was 29.Tom is White British, a software consultant and lives with his wife. He smoked for fifteen years before he cut down and then gave up smoking altogether. Tom did not use any ‘stop smoking’ aids, and feels his change in attitude and determination to quit were important factors.
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And there was a point at uni when [laughs], I’m just remembering this now, you used to get in packets of B&H, Benson and Hedges you used to get gratis points, I don’t think they do these any more. You used to get Focus Points in Embassy and Regal, and Gratis Points in B&H, and you saved them all up and then you could get something for it. And there was a little, you used to get a little catalogue with all the things you could get, this many points you’d get a set of shot glasses and what have you. So I started collecting these things. I smoked B&H mainly. And then Dad was down, Mum wasn’t down, Dad was down where I was at university and helping me pack everything up at the end of term and take it all home, and I had this big brown manila envelope with loads of these gratis points in them, and everyone else that I knew that smoked the same brand of cigarettes would give me theirs, ‘cause they knew I was collecting them.
So we were shifting all the stuff out of my room and Dad found this envelope [laughs] and I said, “Yeah, yeah, I just know loads of people that smoke, and they’re not collecting them for anything, so I asked if I could have them.” Which, even as I was saying it at the time sounded pretty lame. But then I think on the same on the same trip, I think it was the same the same visit, we went out for dinner and at this point, I kind of knew what my Dad was up to, and Dad obviously knew what I was up to with the smoking, and Mum, we assumed, either didn’t know or didn’t ac want to actually say anything. So we’re coming out of the restaurant and Dad sparks up a cigarette and sort of said, “Oh don’t tell your Mother.” And I more or less said, “Well I won’t tell her, if I can have one.” [Laughs]. And that was, yeah that was sort of like, then for a long time there was sort of me and my Dad both smoking illicitly without my Mum knowing which, or well, she probably did know. She probably either didn’t want to really think about it, or turned a blind eye to it or what I don’t…
I was in a team where nobody smoked, so it would have been odd if I was the only one going out at fag breaks, and it was a new job, and you know, want to impress the boss and all the rest of it. So then I didn’t smoke at work, I’d smoke on the way to work and I’d smoke on the way home.
Did you think that smoking wouldn’t impress your boss?
I think because he wasn’t a smoker, and also because there was quite a kind of, it was a sales environment and it was quite a kind of I don’t know, well salesy work ethic, what do I mean by that? You come in early and you stay late and you know, and you work through your lunch time and all that sort of stuff. And I know he was, actually, no I’m wrong about there was nobody. There was, there was one guy who used to go out for cigarette breaks, and I knew that the boss didn’t like that, because there’d be sort of 15, 20 minutes a day where he’d just be away from his desk having a cigarette. So there was that going on, yeah, I’d forgotten about that. But I think I was, yeah, I was very eager to impress him, and he wasn’t a smoker and, I kind of got the impression, because of this other guy and various things, that he kind of didn’t really approve of people doing it at work. So I said, well okay, maybe this will help, maybe this is again like the clean break, my 30th birthday thing. If I don’t smoke at work in this job, then that will really help me to cut down.
I kind of fell into a crowd at uni that where everybody smoked dope, and everybody smoked tobacco.
So, yeah, they kind of got wrapped up together I suppose, and then from the beginning of university right through to probably my mid-twenties, I was a really regular smoker. Probably at its peak maybe between 20 and 30 a day and maybe more if I was going out in the evening and if I had a drink in my hand or what have you. So yeah, university was when it really kind of became a regular thing. It’s just kind of like, everybody else was doing it, but it wasn’t, at that point, it wasn’t, I was too old to, for it to be a peer pressure thing. I think I just really enjoyed it.
I really enjoyed smoking dope, and I really enjoyed smoking cigarettes, and I didn’t really particularly enjoy drinking alcohol at that point.
So yes, so that was right throughout uni that was a constant thing, and one of the years I was at uni I was in France for a year, where smoking is more or less compulsory, and cigarettes are extremely cheap. Yeah, so that was, and again that was quite a, quite a full on year in a lot of ways. I smoked too much, drank too much, didn’t go to lectures enough. It was fun, in a lot of ways.
I think probably when we all started the only one we really, we were ever really aware was ‘oh this gives you cancer.’ Because it said so on the packet. And then late, I do remember sort of, there was a point at which they started putting more specific warnings on the packets. But [laughs] we sort of like, don’t know, there is an element, there is I’m sure a strong element of denial in all of that, because you are walking into a shop and buying something…it says on the box ‘these will probably kill you at some point’. And yet you still buy them. And then you get the sort of dark smokers’ humour in there as well. I remember the ones that said, ‘smoking while pregnant harms your baby.’ Going into the shop and saying to the person, “Can I have a packet of the ones that only harm unborn children.” You know, so there is, that is being totally aware that they’re bad for you, but still sort of on one level not giving a shit, and making a joke out of it, but on another level you can’t claim that you didn’t know it.
So when they started putting the more specific things on, I remember kind of like, “Oh no, you’ve got the ones that lower your sperm count. You want to take them back and get the unborn children ones.” I don’t know if that means it was successful or not. I guess it, I guess it means we were all sort of, maybe more aware of things that we didn’t know before.
But yeah, I guess I sort of, I always knew that it was something that would, that would be bad for me, and I guess the sort of, you don’t need to really know much beyond ‘these will give you cancer.’
The thing that finally clicked for me, I never, I’ve never done any of the sort of patches or gum or anything like that. It was only ever willpower. There was there was two things that really kind of two kind of points at which I realised right this is now, this is how I’m going to do it kind of thing, or this is why I am going to do it.
And the first thing is, it seems like such a simple thing now, but it took me a long time to get there - I finally realised that, actually this is not about convincing yourself that you don’t enjoy this anymore. It’s about accepting that it’s something that you enjoy that you have to stop doing, for other reasons, and not sort of financial reasons, that was never even when I was in a shittily paid job and skint all the time, I still always managed to have tobacco somehow. It was just purely about sort of, I don’t know, I guess it was health reasons. But, but the big thing, the big point at which at which I thought, ‘right now is the time it’s going to happen,’ is as I was getting near to turning 30, and I thought, ‘right, OK, well this is kind of, this is a watershed moment in a lot of ways. It’s a milestone birthday.’ If I stop before I turn 30, then, and I know I don’t smoke beyond that point, then I can say, ‘yeah, I smoked in my teens and twenties and that was it.’ It’s, yeah, it’s actually, that was kind of what did it. It was realising that, OK, you still enjoy it, but you have to stop now, and let’s actually stop now, this is a good point. And I can vividly remember the last cigarette that I had, I was driving home from work, and it was four days before my 30th birthday and I had a cigarette in the car, and that was it, I didn’t have another one after that.
I suppose I’d seen people kind of, I’d seen people try and give up in various ways and fail. I’d seen friends that I knew try gum and patches and the Allen Carr book [laughs]. I had one mate in particular, he must have read that book about four or five times, and every time he’s read it, he gives up smoking for about maybe a couple of months, and then starts again and thinks, ‘oh I really must read that book again.’ That’s sort of not the point of it really is it? I think I thought, if I, if I do this without any help then I’ll make it stick. I don’t know. In the same way that, if I, if I declare I’m going to the gym a lot and losing weight and eating sensibly and all that stuff, and I thought, right if I do this in a kind of, the proper way of not like a fad diety kind of thing, and doing all the right things with diet and exercise and stuff, then that’s the right way to do it, then I’ll do like that. Maybe I thought just kind of, you know, if I haven’t got the willpower to do it without that stuff, then, or using that stuff, I wouldn’t have the willpower anyway. So I, yeah, I don’t know, it’s a combination of pig-headedness and laziness and probably a bit of wanting to do it all myself.
But I don’t know, if that hadn’t have worked, would I have tried it then? Maybe I would have done. I think I kind of hadn’t, I hadn’t seen it be successful for other people, necessarily. I mean there’s a guy at work even now, he’s got, he’s got some, I think he’s got some gum in his drawer and he’s got one of those like plastic fake cigarettes, yeah. But he still goes out for a fag, and yeah, that’s clearly not working for you is it. But it’s, you know, a lot of people talk about, you know, you can’t give up until you want to give up. And maybe for some people having that little extra bit of help from the patches or the gum, once they’ve decided they want to. But for me it was like really clear cut, and once I really did click that no I want to stop now, then that was the point at which the willpower was enough. But I don’t think anything would have been enough before that point. It would have been chewing all the gum and sticking all the patches on in the world, but I would have still probably gone back to cigarettes.
So I was seeing the nurse for blood pressure checks and things, and then obviously one of the questions they asked me was ‘do you smoke and how much do you smoke?’ And she told me about the kind of giving up smoking groups that they arranged I guess. It must have been an NHS thing. Which yeah, I was made aware of it, but I didn’t follow it up.
Why didn’t you follow it up?
Why? I don’t, well I don’t know. Maybe for the same reason that I didn’t ever try the patches or the gum or anything else. I kind of quite pigheadedly thought, ‘no, I can do this by myself.’ So I guess I knew that the help was there if I wanted it. There were adverts on TV about giving up smoking helpline and all that sort of stuff, but I never really, I didn’t follow it up, because I think by that stage, I think I was at the point then, where I was kind of having my kind of slightly false starty, giving up thing that went on for a while, before I finally cracked it.
I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s pig-headedness or laziness or what. I don’t know, I just sort of, ‘no, it’s probably less hassle if I do it by myself.’ I didn’t want to commit my time to going and sitting with strangers and talking about smoking.
What was it about like the idea of going out somewhere and speaking to people about something you were perhaps struggling with?
I don’t think I had a problem with that. I think it was, it probably was more laziness, like I don’t know where I’m going to fit this in with my life, you know, I’m too busy for that stuff. I don’t want to do that. I don’t think I would have had a problem with sitting with strangers and talking about it, any more than I’ve got a problem with talking about it to you now. And none of its kind of difficult or personal or something that I struggle with on that level.
But it was still a long time. I think I kind of, I had a lot of sort of false starts with trying to give up. I’d have a lot of, ‘I’m not going to smoke this week’, or ‘I’m not going to smoke at work.’ ‘I’m just going to smoke in the evenings and at weekends’ you know, and kind of trying these things that were...It would kind of last for a while, and then I, there would eventually be a way back. And there, so there’s always, there’s always some event that I’d go, oh fuck it, I‘m going to have a, I’m going to go and buy a packet of cigarettes and smoke most of them.
So that was kind of, yeah there was then a sort of period of years of kind of having cut down a bit, and I always used to say, going from like 20 a day to 2 a day, was easier than going from 2 a day to none at all, and kind of just completely quitting altogether. I think for a while I sort of fooled myself that I could get to a point where I had an occasional one, which, I don’t know, maybe some people can. I know people that have. They used to be regular smokers and now they just do it occasionally, but I’ve learnt over time that was not going to be the case for me.
So why was it easier going from twenty to two?
Because it was, it was still there. I could say right OK, ‘I’m not going, I’m not going to smoke all day like I used to, but I can still have a cigarette after work, I can still have one in the evening’. And I just, I can look forward to that, but then even within that there’d be some days where I’d go ‘well, maybe I’ll just have a couple more than two or three’ and then…so some days there would be more. But it was the reason it was easier was, it was still there, it was still something I could do, even if I was saying to myself ‘don’t do it quite so much.’ That was easier than saying ‘right, you can’t do this at all anymore. This thing that you still enjoy.’ Because I did still enjoy it. It did still kind of…it did still make me feel nice to have a cigarette.
If it were to be a message to somebody who’s thinking about giving up smoking, what might it be?
Well, it is a cliché, but you have really got to want to do it. And I think you, there’ll probably be points at which you think you want to do it, but I don’t know you actually still do. I mean for me, I think it’s a very, I’m sure people will find their own way. And if people want to try, you know, the Allen Carr book or whatever and the patches and the gum, well all I can say is that for me, it was about the realisation for me, that I don’t have to stop enjoying this before I give up.
This can be about me stopping something that I enjoy because the benefit of stopping outweighs the enjoyment I get from doing it. It seems like, it’s much more easier said than done of course, because it took me years to get to that point, and you know, even more time again to make it stick. But that’s what worked for me.
I had, I still had the occasional craving for it, a long, a long time after I stopped, because I’d been smoking for the best part of 15 years. So there was a lot of, a lot of connections, a lot of things that you do. This was a weird thing - it wasn’t so much like a physical dependency at times, it was more like a kind of, almost like there was a psychological link between doing particular things. So like I’d always, because I always had a cigarette after I’d had a meal, that was when I wanted one, even after I’d given up, or weird ones like, I, for quite a long time after, I really wanted a cigarette when I came out of a cinema, because I’d always done it, and getting off a ‘plane, and all these things, I used to look forward a cigarette. Oh yes, this is great, but I quite fancy having a fag when this is done.
And it was also as if I had to kind of, I had to do each of those things, and not have a cigarette afterwards, before I knew I could do it without wanting one. So that took quite a long time. Because I don’t think I went anywhere on a ‘plane for quite a while after I’d had my last cigarette, and I was really surprised when we landed that kind of "cor, I really want a cigarette." So yeah. That’s kind of about it, what brought it all about.
Thinking about smoking weed, how would you smoke? Would you smoke hash? Would you smoke grass? Or…
Both, all of the above. Kind of whatever was available and I could afford. I think there, there was definitely a point, particularly at university where it was almost like… I guess that you get, you get a drinking culture with some groups of lads and stuff where it’s all about how much you can drink, and how much strong drink you can drink, all that sort of stuff, and we kind of did the same thing with cannabis. We were very experimental with it in university, making contraptions and all sorts of things and getting really strong skunk and stuff, that, I hadn’t smoked that before I went to uni, the stuff we used to get back home was kind of, pretty bog standard resin and crappy weed that was mostly twigs and seeds. So I hadn’t really come across the really strong stuff. But, yeah, there was definitely a kind of, there was a bit of a, like lads get competitive with drinking, there was a little bit of that with how caned can we get and still stand up and have a conversation and… yeah. So no, it was everything. Whatever was going, and people we used to buy stuff off, would often say ‘oh we’ve got this, this and this,’ you know, so we’d try a little bit of various things. I, I guess at first I didn’t mind what it was. I probably preferred the stronger stuff, ‘cause it was a cheaper way to get caned, ‘cause you didn’t need as much of it. But then later on I didn’t, I kind of went off the really strong stuff. It was just a bit too much. I liked, like normal weed that wasn’t skunk, and there’s, what I particularly liked was like polleny hash, so kind of quite nice resin that went really fluffy when you made a joint with it. That was my favourite thing. Because it was a slightly different kind of buzz that you got off that, than you got off skunk and weed and things.
So sort of going back to the conversation we had about school kids and so on. Which groups of people at university smoked weed?
It seemed for a while that it was everybody, yeah. And our group was kind of, we were, like at school we all were into the same music, went to the same places, you know, liked the same TV shows, all that sort of stuff. Then at uni we were a bit more of a kind of disparate group, ‘cause you are thrown together a bit. I guess, in some ways we were very similar, like does tend to gravitate to like I suppose, especially when you get thrown together at uni.
But I mean, looking at how all those guys have turned out, and different lives that we’ve had, we didn’t really have that much more in common than we liked each other’s company and particularly liked getting caned with each other. There was a guy that was, that played rugby, there was a guy that had, he was like he was a bit of a mystical figure because he’d had a gap year, you know, not many people had gap years in those days. And he’d been to India and come back with kind of really exotic smoking paraphernalia, and he had long hair and big side burns, and we thought he was cool. And then there was people like me, that liked football and getting caned, and yeah. So I guess we didn’t really have a group identity as such, which, yeah, because there wasn’t any particular thing that sort of made us the same, other than, you know, yeah like I said, we enjoyed each other’s company and we all liked getting stoned.
I think throughout we still kind of managed to go to lectures and do the stuff that we had to do, but it was a daily thing. Some days if I didn’t have lectures, it would be a breakfast thing. Some days, if I knew I didn’t have to be up in the morning before I went to bed the previous night I’d roll a joint and put it by my bed so I could wake up and smoke it. That’s really rank isn’t it? I’d wake up and smoke it straight away. Yeah, so it was all times of day, all, all occasions. Probably tell because I’m smiling, I’m thinking about it. It was sort of ridiculous at times. And I think there, this was part of the competitive thing as well, what kind of normal activity can you do while you’re really caned? [Laughs]. Going into the bank and performing some sort of transaction in the bank, can you do that? Can you go to Asda and do the big shop while you’re caned, kind of thing. Because it was partly about doing it and then partly about being able to tell the story about it afterwards I suppose. But it was ridiculous, and we were sort of in an experimental phase with it I suppose. But, and then later on, it just kind of, it became more like, you know, some people get home from work and have a drink, and I get home from work and roll a spliff. And do a bit more of it at weekends. But yeah, certainly at uni there was a point at which yeah, you certainly didn’t need an excuse.
I was going to say how did it change when you were working and you were saying you got caned to cope with a boring job?
Well, yeah, this is partly, this is partly kind of I guess, wrapped up a little bit in the personal relationship that I had, the guy that I lived with. ‘Cause we’d met in, we met at work, and we then ended up kind of... for various reasons he he’d split up with a girlfriend and he was looking for a place to live. The shared house I was in, people were going their separate ways, and I had got to the point where I thought, it would be quite nice to just live with one other person. And so I, we moved into a flat together, so we worked the same hours, in the same job, we lived in the same place, you know, we were like, completely living the same life the whole time. And he liked to get caned, so did I. But we had to both get up for work and stuff. So then it kind of became we’d, we’d both looked forward to it at the end of the day, and then kind of, when you’re in a shit job, it takes you a while to realise how shit your job is I think sometimes. But then ‘cause we had each other to kind of remind each other how shit it was, that kind of, that really sort of reinforced it probably for both of us, and it got to a point where it moved from being like ‘oh yeah, in a couple of hours we can go home and have a spliff, brilliant’ to kind of like ‘oh fucking roll on half past four.’ Do you know what I mean? And ‘oh I’ve got to get home, and I’ve got to get caned and stop thinking about this stupid job.’ I don’t know how it would have been different if I had been just me doing the shit job, or whether I’d have left it earlier. Yeah, I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought about that, but that, yeah weirdly after we’d, after we moved out of that flat and he, I’m trying to think what he did after that, I think, yeah, he moved into another shared flat, and I moved in with my girlfriend, and we kind of we barely spoke for about two years after that. It had been a really intense relationship. We spent all our time in each other’s company pretty much apart from when we went out different places. All day at work, every evening at home and stuff. So yeah, I think there was, it was partly about the job where it changed, and just kind of partly about just kind of growing up a bit more I suppose.
Tom, 32, a software consultant, was 14 when he first tried a cigarette as a result of peer pressure. When he was 16 he started to smoke more regularly, sharing packets of cigarettes with friends. Tom says that, whilst he was aware of the health implications of smoking, he did not really consider them applicable to him, and admits to this being partly because he and his friends thought of themselves as a bit rebellious as teenagers. Tom went to university and became friends with people who smoked, and smoked 20-30 cigarettes a day himself. He says that he also smoked cannabis regularly. He kept smoking a secret from his parents; however his father, who smoked occasionally, found out, and it became a ‘shared secret’. He reports there being an experimental and competitive culture amongst his friends. After university, Tom lived with one friend who smoked and also worked at the same company as Tom. He said that neither enjoyed his job, and smoking tobacco and cannabis moved from being ‘fun’ to a ‘nice release’ or escapism from their situation.
Tom remembers that his attitude began to alter when he moved in with his girlfriend (now wife), to a flat where smoking was not permitted. His then girlfriend smoked only occasionally, and Tom began to cut down the amount he smoked. At this time the smoking ban was introduced in pubs. Tom became increasingly aware of his own health during his mid-twenties, experiencing a ‘robust smoker’s cough’ and was once told he had high blood pressure. Tom had what he calls a number of ‘false starts’ in giving up smoking, during which he always had an ‘excuse’ to smoke. He reports that the major shift for him came in his changing his attitude – he decided he wanted to give up smoking, and was doing so because it was good for him to do so, even though he still enjoyed it. He also realised that smoking was not only a physical addiction but also a habit. Circumstances helped Tom in giving up, such as his girlfriend and Dad no longer smoking, and he had a new job where not many people smoked and he wanted to impress his boss. He set himself a deadline of his 30th birthday, and in fact gave up aged 29. Within a year of stopping smoking tobacco, Tom stopped smoking cannabis as well. He reflects that smoking tobacco and cannabis ‘served a purpose’ for fifteen years of his life, but that eventually not giving in to the temptation of smoking was more rewarding than the quick rush of having a cigarette.
Tom cut down his smoking gradually, using willpower alone, to 2 or 3 per day before stopping completely. He did not use any ‘stop smoking’ aids, but thinks that these may be helpful for some people. For Tom, the most important factors were his change in attitude and determination to give up smoking.