So it's been a week. A week without cigarettes. It's amazing how much more time I feel like I have, and so it's inevitably led to the start of the blog that I said I'd never, ever write. The thing about quitting is that one just has to stay busy at all times to try and beat those ten minute bursts where you can do nothing but think about how much you fancy a smoke.
I, like many others, have this long relationship with quitting smoking more than smoking itself. There's nothing worse than an ex-smoker going about their day complaining about other smokers; I've done it previously. I've lorded around the place passing judgement on those still enjoying the habit, whinged about how hard it is to give up, avoided my favourite drinking holes through fear of wanting one because of feeling like I simply couldn't enjoy the evening without a ciggy in the company of a cold pint. "They" say that once you're a smoker you'll always be one, and it's just a case of whether you actually are engaging in the sordid affair at that current stage in your life or not. I can see what people mean, because I certainly always feel it in the back of my mind somewhere. You feel an emptiness in your lungs, the cold air inside your chest; it takes a moment of realisation to understand that it's clean air filling you instead, and that that warm, thick coating of tar is working its slick way out of your body.
Personally I leave myself notes everywhere to remind me what's going on as the days without the death sticks pass: I'll live longer; my skin will have more colour; things stop stinking like shit; I'll actually feel awake in the mornings; I'll be able to taste and smell again, properly. The list is fantastic and the benefits seem endless. Imagine waking up after nearly a decade to find that you'd misplaced what chocolate really tastes like. The NHS makes a lovely list of what actually happens:
- 20 minutes: blood pressure and pulse rate return to normal
- 8 hours: nicotine and carbon monoxide levels in blood reduce by half, and the oxygen gets back to normal
- 24 hours: carbon monoxide is gone
- 48 hours: nicotine gone
- 72 hours: breathing becomes easier as the bronchial tubes relax
- 2 to 12 weeks: circulation improves
- 3 to 9 months: lungs improve by 10%
- 5 years: heart attack risk falls to about half that of a smoker
- 10 years: heart attack risk is the same as non-smokers, and lung cancer risk falls to half that of a smoker
All that sounds wonderful, and it is true that you feel better. You can notice the improvement, but you have to look for it. It's so tricky looking at lists like that because everything seems such a long investment of time. Ten years? I'll be 35 - what happens until then? It's quite easy to think, "sod it, I'll take my chances," yet there's one more advantage.
So far, I've saved around £40; if I'd had the cash then I would have definitely spent it on cigarettes. Perhaps that's a huge benefit of being a poor student, I actually couldn't buy any right now even if I was desperate. Doing a quick calculation, I've spent approximately £12,480 on smoking so far in my life. It's an astonishing amount. So by quitting, not thinking about inflation, I've already saved that much over the next ten years.
Enough of the benefit loving, everyone knows it's hard. How does one do it? Patches? Meetings? Cold turkey? It's different for all. I have to just stop, stone cold stop. It's a bastard but I'm here, nearly 25, knowing that I want that extra time in my day, that I want to still have a chance of performing in my forties (or late twenties), and perhaps not do something stupid like die before I'm fifty.
Next time you feel the urge to unload at a smoker, take a step back. Sure, they cost the health system millions each year and you probably don't like the way they smell and breath on you, but they're probably feeling the same way. Not every smoker wants to smoke, they're most likely an habitual quitter like me.
Illustrations by Hannah Wallace