Is the weed controlling your life?

I gave up smoking one Friday afternoon when I was a couple of months shy of my 30th birthday. Not a single puff since.

Having started smoking at the age of 12, I was a 15-20 a day man. In the early years I used to rely on my mother not noticing the loss of a few of her cork-tipped Craven As. I graduated to Capstan and Gold Flake, then Churchman’s and on to Players and Senior Service, finally settling on Peter Stuyvesant.

What got me to analyse the habit was noticing that the day’s first cigarette was getting earlier and earlier, until I was lighting up as soon as I got in my car to drive to work. At the same time I realised that I smoked very little at weekends, perhaps only 3 over both days.

Clearly my smoking was related to workday stress. But it was also a habit linked to, for example, having a cup of tea or coffee. Because I dislike being ruled by addiction, I decided to resume control of my actions. Here’s how I did it.

To begin with, I never said No to the smoking impulse. Every time I reached for a cigarette I simply asked myself if I needed it at that moment, or if I could wait. That little delay re-established my control, and fairly soon I was smoking noticeably less.

Then one Friday afternoon, with about 4 or 5 cigarettes left in the pack, I decided to stop. As I was already smoking little at weekends, the next two days were easy.

But that’s when my Director at work went on holiday. In his absence, a number of things went wrong and because he was away, the Managing Director took to calling me on the phone and shouting his head off. He was an infamous bully with a fiery temper and given to throwing things at people.

Refusing to be cowed, I shouted back. Then reached for a cigarette. That’s when I started to say No. I said to myself, “I’m not going to let that SOB make me smoke.” And after a week of those exchanges I knew that nothing would make me smoke again.

It was a lucky decision, because years later I had an (almost) emergency double heart bypass. One of my major arteries was 95% blocked, another was 70% clogged. Smoking is known to damage the interior walls of arteries, and could have exacerbated the problem. And a recent study has shown that, following a heart bypass, non-smokers live longer than smokers.

Most importantly smoking, like any addiction, takes away the control of your life.