The Tobacconist

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Today I went out for a walk to buy cat food and suddenly remembered that I needed paper for my printer. I knew there was a newsagent* on my way, so I thought I’d stop there on my return journey. No point in carrying two reams of 500 pages or 10lbs (4.5 kilos) all the way to the pet shop and back, right?

Unfortunately, the newsagent was closed until 3pm and it was only 2:40pm. I knew they had previously carried stock, but I didn’t want to wait outside because the weather was unpredictable and it wasn’t certain they would have any. I decided to go home sheetless.

But, after a quick swing by the butchers shop to buy a pork chop and some traditional Belgian stoemp (mashed potatoes with veggies), I saw the tobacconist* across the road. They sold all sorts of bric-a-brac other than tobacco. I decided to give it a shot.

Standing in front of the woman behind the counter, I was awestruck. Her rack was enormous! There were rows upon row of packs of cigarettes lined up waiting to be bought. At a quick guesstimate, I would say there were about 10 rows high, by 15 packs wide and 10 packs deep, with an average of 20 cigarettes per pack. That’s 30,000 cigarettes for sale right there, right now, in a little tobacco shop at the corner of my street. That’s before the deliveryman comes to replenish the stock. Needless to say, they didn’t sell reams of paper and so I walked home.

The sight of all those cigarettes intrigued and repulsed me somewhat. On the one hand, it provided me with a glimpse of nostalgia, remembering how I used to voluntarily and excitedly fork out some of my hard-earned cash just to send a portion of it literally up in smoke. On the other hand, it reminded me of just how blind I had been about the addiction, the lies I had told myself and others, and my ignorance about the health dangers of smoking.

Notes:

* Newsagent = A place to buy newspapers, cigarettes, and other consumable paraphernalia such as sweets (candy in the US).

* Tobacconist = A place to buy tobacco, newspapers, and other consumable paraphernalia such as sweets (candy in the US).

– My partner swears that I was born from a different era, one in which they said apothecary instead of pharmacy. Bah, humbug!

– All puns are intended.

Set Yourself Up For Success

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I recently wrote about the dangers of trying to take on too many simultaneous challenges while attempting to quit smoking in a blog entitled “What to do instead of smoking?” The premise of the article was to highlight the fact that people often try to improve their lives in bulk fashion rather than tackling one project at a time. For example, to stop smoking, lose weight, get fitter, pay more attention to their kids, focus more on their work, and so forth at the same time. The warning was about people trying to change all the negatives in their lives. But what about the positives?

Here is the good news. I firmly believe in people trying their hand at something new as a way of putting their energy into something that defocuses from smoking. Again, not multiple projects, but one sizable project or two smaller projects that take up a sufficient amount of time to create a diversion, something to think about, talk about, something to get your teeth into. Pottery, painting, singing, dancing, learning a second language, teaching, taking care of animals, reading, playing a musical instrument, joining a theater or drama group, or running away to becoming a trapeze artist at the circus. OK, I might have got carried away with the last one (or maybe not) but you see what I mean.

Whatever it is you choose to engage in as a new activity is going to detract from smoking and provide you with an opportunity to indulge in something exciting, something to talk about, something to look forward to, something that will bring you closer to the new life of who you want to be. It doesn’t have to be something extreme. All it takes is for you to come up with one or possibly two ideas of what you could realistically be doing with your spare time and go for the gusto.  You can do it!

Cigarettes vs E-Cigarettes – The Lesser of Two Evil Evils

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I don’t know much about all the carcinogenic materials contained in tobacco products, but it has been widely reported that cigarettes contain around 4,000 distinct chemicals, of which many have negative effects on the human body. Electronic cigarettes, on the other hand, are often claimed to contain far fewer toxic agents than cigarettes. However, there are currently no FDA regulations or conclusive studies on the contents of e-cigarettes. Therefore, any claims to the effect that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes is purely marketing speak.

The types and quantities of toxic agents that currently exist in e-cigarettes are largely dependent on what each manufacturer decides to include, knowingly or unknowingly. Your guess is as good as mine. Until such time as there has been sufficient testing, and implementation of rules and regulations, there cannot be a serious comparison. Don’t be fooled by the claims that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes. After all, poison is poison, and carcinogens are carcinogens. Leave the expertise up to the experts!

In the meantime, my advice would be not to trade in one for the other, but to get rid of both!

Do you really need to smoke?

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How would you react if there was no more tobacco left on earth?

I mean, would you implode or explode if you weren’t able to smoke another cigarette? Would you scream a load of abuse and yell profanities at everyone? Would you commit crimes against humanity to tried to find the few remaining strands of tobacco? How far would you go?

The fact is, you’d probably feel like crap for a few days and then you’d have to accept what happened. There wouldn’t be any choice in the matter.

And then you’d live…

Be Your Biggest Supporter!

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Support for quitting smoking can come from several different sources. You may be lucky enough to have a large circle of friends and family to help see you through the rough times and lift your spirits when you’re feeling down. Perhaps you only have one or two people you can talk to, or perhaps you rely on professional help such as your doctor or a quit smoking clinic. Some people participate in internet forums for support. I have also seen a growing number of phone apps that track your quit and give you congratulatory messages when you have reached a particular milestone. “Well done! You have been quit since one month and saved $180!”

No matter where you look for support, the goal should always be for the supporter(s) to reinforce your own conviction and to help you reach the goal that you have set for yourself. There may be times when you feel down or less convinced of your capability to see things through. Your support system is there to lift your spirits and remind you that you have what it takes to keep going. If that’s a physical shoulder to cry on or a simple “You can do It!” message from a stranger (or an app), it’s better than feeling all alone to deal with your emotions.

Choose your support system carefully. Some people have a need for real-world human interaction, whereas others can get by with talking to strangers on the Internet. Some people are self-driven and can get away with managing their own difficulties. Everyone is different, and each form of support has its own unique qualities, advantages, and disadvantages.

For example, friends and family living close by may be available 24/7, which is great when there’s a crisis, but it can lead to too much dependency if the person quitting leans too heavily on their support system. Seeing a doctor or going to a clinic is a less immediate and more formal form of support, typically with less emotional involvement and, unless they have a 24 hour hotline, you may feel stranded for a while. With Internet forums, there is no physical human contact and you may also have to wait several hours (days?) before someone responds, hopefully with a pleasing answer. Needless to say, with an app you’re looking at a plastic screen with pre-defined messages, which may be just enough to keep you going.

For each support system(s) you choose, there is one common element that doesn’t change, and that’s you! Ultimately, you are responsible for your own actions. If you think of a marathon race, for example, the supporters are there to encourage the runner to participate, to stand on the sidelines and cheer the runner on, and to congratulate the runner at the end of the race. You have to do the actual running, and for that you need to be your biggest supporter!

Want to Quit vs. Want to Have Quit

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Where is your arrow heading? Are you intending on quitting smoking or have you already quit? There’s a big difference between having extinguished your last cigarette and not wanting – or even be willing – to smoke anymore. I’m not talking about nicotine cravings or fantasizing about smoking. I think that even the most resolute of former smokers may still have the occasional nostalgic thought about how good things were back then, when they smoked. I am one of them. It’s part of who we were. We don’t need to forget about the past.

I’m talking about understanding the profound negative effects of smoking on ourselves, as well as the people around us. Just recently, I was talking with my ex-wife about how we used to smoke in front of our young children. We both feel bad about our past behavior, but we also know that we weren’t quite as aware of the situation back then as we are now. Wisdom comes with age, or should I say, the older you get, the more important life becomes.

Having quit smoking means coming to terms with the past and living happily in the present. The future will take care of itself, whether you like it or not. If someone offered you a cigarette today, would you have a hard time turning it down or would you stand by your principles and politely decline? If you have truly quit, then you will know the answer.

I have no regrets about having quit smoking.

Niggling Little Thoughts

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As a smoker, you are no doubt aware of niggling little thoughts about smoking that bother you from time to time. But, you go through life from day to day buying and consuming cigarettes. You look forward to smoking.  However, you also know that there are consequences to your habit.

Anyone who has smoked for long enough has certainly questioned themselves about the following statements:

1. Tobacco is expensive, and it will continue to increase in price, indefinitely
2. Cigarettes are known to cause cancer and other illnesses
3. Smoking is seen as less and less acceptable in the workplace and in society in general
4. Having to keep up with purchasing your supply of cigarettes and lighters is a chore
5. Burning holes in your clothing and furniture is costly and dangerous
6. Restrictions on places where and when you can smoke is causing you stress
7. Having to smoke outside in extreme weather (cold, snow, rain, heavy winds) is a pain
8. Smoking in a car with children on board, in front of children or near children, makes you feel guilty
9. Lighting up when you’re ill seems ridiculous, but you have to do it anyway to get your nicotine fix
10. Quitting smoking seems so difficult that you would rather ignore the burdens of being a smoker

Tobacco addiction, like many other addictions, will easily carry you through life from one day to the next until a crisis occurs. If you never stop to think about what you are doing, the good intentions that you had to give up at some point may never materialize, and you may be faced with the consequences of your lack of action. Why not choose to change your life today instead of waiting until it becomes it’s too late?

Quit Smoking: You Only Need to Succeed Once!

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There’s nothing like stating the obvious because it’s true. Once you have quit smoking for long enough and feel confident that you won’t smoke again, you have succeeded. Having reached that point myself some time ago, I’m thrilled to know that I finally managed to defeat my tobacco addiction.

The first several times I tried, it wasn’t easy. A lot of the quitting happened in my head but didn’t translate into the desired action. I knew that I wanted to quit, but I couldn’t get started. There was always tomorrow. At times, I felt really determined to succeed before going to bed and woke up the next morning wondering what on earth I had been thinking the previous night. When I did have the resolve to quit, it often lasted only a few hours before I caved in. Most times, I wasn’t able to hold out for more than a day, and although I once managed to quit for a week, deep-down I wasn’t convinced that I would manage to stay quit. After all, I was a smoker. In fact, there were times when I felt that there was no point in even contemplating quitting smoking. I simply gave up.

There is nothing unique to my story. Many smokers go through these same thought processes, telling themselves that they want to quit, but not managing to stay away from tobacco addiction. That is the nature of the beast. Smoking gradually transforms you into a smoker. Smoking becomes a part of your identity, defining who you are. After enough cigarettes, you no longer just smoke; you are ‘a smoker’. There are some people that manage to quit just like that, but for the vast majority of people, it is a struggle. Most people have to try a couple to several times before they succeed.

Shirking the ‘smoker’ identity is probably the hardest part about quitting. It requires a change of mindset and quite some time. Both go hand in hand. When you first quit, it may feel like you’re a smoker who’s trying to not smoke. The time between your last cigarette and the present isn’t long enough to declare victory. You’re still a novice ex-smoker, with little experience. More time and practice is needed before you can start thinking in terms of detachment from smoking. You may go through one or more periods of hesitation and self-doubt. After a while (weeks, months?), you will get to the point where you feel more confident and optimistic. Finally, you will get to a point where there has been enough time and distance between when you quit and the present for you to think less and less about smoking.

The key thing with this process is to believe that you can manage life without smoking. Millions have succeeded before you, and millions continue to try every day. Given the right mindset and enough time, many of them will cross over from being a smoker to becoming a confident ex-smoker. It may take a couple or more attempts before you manage to reach your goal, but keep trying!

You only need to succeed once!

What to do Instead of Smoking?

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When you set out to quit tobacco, one of the many questions you ask yourself might be what to do instead of smoking. The longer you have been smoking, the more likely it is that you have developed habits of when and where you smoke, and with whom you smoke. Tobacco consumption has become a part of your lifestyle, and therefore quitting may require significant changes as to how you manage your day-to-day activities. You can’t just sit around staring into space thinking about the fact that you have quit smoking. Something more needs to be done. You need some kind of activity that replaces your old bad habit.

You may feel tempted to embark on a new fitness regime including a healthy diet, perhaps starting with a detox. More exercise is always a plus. You may feel invigorated at the idea of transforming your self-image from a smoking couch potato to a world-class runner. Even if you’re not overly ambitious, the idea of replacing tobacco with healthy alternatives is appealing. Instead of smoking a few cigarettes with your morning coffee, you could go out for a morning jog, or perhaps swim a few lengths at the local pool. Why not hook up with a friend and play some tennis or squash before work? There are so many things you could be doing instead of smoking! So long as you’re doing something ‘wholesome’ instead of smoking, what could possibly go wrong?

Hold your horses! Mental projection of a healthier self is much easier than actually putting in the effort to reach that goal. I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble, but I maintain that quitting smoking is one project whereas leading a healthier lifestyle is wholly another and can potentially be broken down into several other projects (diet, fitness, mental wellness…). You cannot simply lump all the different changes into one big bucket and call it ‘The New Me’ project.

Firstly, your primary goal in quitting smoking should be to no longer smoke, end of story. Non-smokers don’t look for alternatives to smoking. They just don’t smoke, regardless of whether they are super-fit or couch potatoes. They don’t look at their lives in terms of smoking or not, and they certainly don’t link their daily activities or their level of health to the fact that they don’t smoke. There is no need to create a dependency between smoking (or not) and leading an overall healthier lifestyle. Quitting smoking is already a big step toward becoming healthier. Anything else beyond quitting is an added bonus.

Secondly, there is a great danger of the ‘domino effect’ if you decide to link quitting smoking with other aspects of leading a healthier lifestyle. Simply put, failure in one area can quickly lead to an overall collapse of all your good intentions. For example, the morning jog that doesn’t appeal due to cold and rain may leave you sitting at home wondering what to do instead. The diet that you started doesn’t allow for any sugary treats, and yet you have a box of chocolates that is nearing its consumption deadline. A friend buys you a box of cigars, not realizing that you have quit smoking. Any of these types of situations can cause an instant meltdown if you’re not careful. If you do decide to take on multiple simultaneous lifestyle changes, then be sure to compartmentalize each change as a separate project. In other words, stay committed to each project independently.

My advice is to replace smoking with minor adjustments to your lifestyle rather than going for the ‘big bang’. That is, make a plan of when and where you typically smoke and what you could be doing instead. A good way to start is by looking around you at non-smokers and see what they are doing while you would normally smoke. Perhaps they are reading a book or a magazine article, or maybe having a cup of tea or coffee. They could be talking with a friend or a colleague, or perhaps going for a short walk. Some of them maybe be playing games on their computer or mobile phone, and others taking care of things around the house. The list of possibilities is endless, but you will no doubt find that they are managing their time quite happily. The only difference between you and them is that you smoke and they don’t.

Given enough time and patience, you can become oblivious to smoking too. Take it slowly!

Get excited about quitting smoking!

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In an earlier post, I spoke about conviction, courage, and determination. Those are the three required pillars of success to quitting smoking. You have a solid reason to quit, you’re capable of standing up to the difficulties of quitting, and you have a driving force to reach your goal. But, are you excited?

If I had known when I first quit what I know today, I would have been excited! But, like most people, I saw quitting as a necessary evil in order to reap some nebulous benefits in the distant future. Sure, I had the three pillars in place and I felt confident that I would manage to quit successfully. I even acted quite cockily about the challenge, and yet I wasn’t excited. If anything, I was simply determined to beat the addiction. I didn’t know what to expect.

It’s hard to get excited when you can’t imagine the outcome of a situation. As a smoker, I lived with all the typical burdens of smoking; having to maintain a supply of cigarettes, spending money to keep the habit, dealing with health issues, seeing brown tar stains everywhere in my house, worrying about burning embers, the effect of second-hand smoke on my pets etc. At the time I wasn’t really aware that things could really feel any different. It was more a question of thinking “wouldn’t it be nice if…”

Now I can say with no uncertainty that “I am so excited that I no longer smoke!”  I don’t need a supply of cigarettes, I don’t spend money on smoking, I feel a lot healthier, my house is clean, and my pets seem a lot happier (and I feel happier that I’m not inflicting smoking on them).

I know it’s not easy to imagine being excited about quitting, and I don’t expect anyone to be jumping for joy as they go through the process. Still, bear in mind that one day you too can feel excited about the results.