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.

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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.

Join the Five Million Club

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When you first quit smoking you might feel somewhat alone in your goal or that you are one of only a few people attempting to rid yourself permanently of tobacco. You might know some people in your entourage who have already tried. They may have succeeded or not, but overall it can seem hard to imagine that there is a large population of successful ex-smokers. This feeling may be compounded by all the talk regarding how difficult it is to quit smoking, and availability of a vast array of quit smoking aids, tools, books, etc.

One issue to bear in mind is that there is a lack of visibility of ex-smokers, because they blend in seamlessly with everyone else who doesn’t smoke. They don’t go around being vocal about the fact that they quit smoking, especially after enough time has passed for them to no longer care about it. Ex-smokers are also notably absent on quit smoking forums, for the same reasons. They tend to stop posting once they have reached the 1st yearlong milestone and only come back to make one post for each successive year of having quit if they continue to post at all.

I’ve also known some people in the corporate world who prefer to hide the fact that they once smoked, especially in the upper echelons of management. I imagine the same is true of other environments outside of work. Smoking can be seen as a weakness better not discussed; even if it is a thing of the past.

So, where are all these successful ex-smokers? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the US alone, the number of smokers has decreased significantly over the past several years. It went from 20.9% of the population in 2005 (61 million) to 17.8% of the population in 2013 (56 million). That’s 5 million people who have quit in 8 years. I looked at the statistics for several other large country populations, and the trend is similar. Smoking is on the decrease worldwide.

So the next time you wonder where all the ex-smokers have gone, it is probably that just like you, they went to join the 5 million club!

e-cigarettes – What I really think…

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e-cigarettes with a lower-case ‘e’, because it’s trendy. They’re everywhere, but why? Partly because traditional cigarettes are less and less acceptable in today’s society, partly because e-cigarettes seem attractive for various reasons, and partly because government policies about e-cigarettes are still weak.

Down with pungent tobacco smells and up with silky-smooth flavors such as strawberries, peach, cranberry, vanilla, lilac, lavender, or if you prefer a more manly flavor, how about mocha, dark chocolate, pipe tobacco, or leather? You get my point.

There’s never been a better time for unscrupulous businessmen and budding marketeer’s to start fobbing off ‘safe alternatives’ to good old tobacco and nicotine. Worse, there’s never been a better time for cowboy entrepreneurs to recruit vulnerable youngsters into starting on a journey of recurring revenues for the manufacturers. Convert the wannabe quitters and engage the youth the while they’re still young enough!

So, while I sit here quietly trying to convince a few people to quit smoking tobacco, I find that there is a bigger problem looming on the horizon. ‘Big business’ is now manufacturing, marketing and advertising dubious alternative products to smoking traditional tobacco, and quite successfully I might add. There’s plenty of money to be made in this new industry which is largely based on a known model: get ’em hooked and reel ’em in.

Hopefully, like me, you’ll realize that this is all a passing phase. The governments will step in. They will be informed by the appropriate scientific bodies of the dangers of smoking electronic cigarettes. There will be strict regulations put in place, and some people will no doubt go to jail for fraudulent activities. Finally, e-cigarettes will become safer over time.

In the meantime, I will go on helping those who wish to quit traditional cigarettes. Just don’t ask me if vaping e-cigarettes is a viable solution to quitting smoking. In my opinion it is not, because it is simply replacing one addictive habit with another.

Who I Am and Why I’m Here

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This entry was inspired by The Daily Post.  I was going to call it “Why Should I Care?” but I’ll get to that in a moment.  The fact is, both titles would have been appropriate for today’s blog, so I’ll start by saying who I am and why I’m here.

Firstly I’m an ex-smoker. I can say that openly here, because my blog is all about quitting smoking. I wouldn’t expect to get much mileage out of that statement at a job interview. “And what other dubious talents do you bring us today, Mr Kross?” they might ask.

I’m a father of two teenagers and an international businessman, or rather I was a businessman. I’ve worked for ‘big corporate’ on two continents and across multiple countries. I’ve had a lot of responsibility and earned some good money. But, I don’t really care for that. I’ve never really craved much money or possessions. Sure, I enjoy living life in relative comfort, but that will always be enough. I want to do something different with my life now.

For several years I’ve wanted to write. Recently I was made redundant and I now have that opportunity. I’ve already hidden a few topics up my sleeve, with 52 years of life experience and its ups and downs to bring forth. But for now I shall be writing about quitting smoking. Why? Because I think it’s important. I didn’t used to think that.

I used to think that people should be able to do what they want, so long as they’re not breaking the law or causing harm to others. If someone wants to mess their life up by doing drugs or alcohol, having risky sex, or slowly killing themselves by overeating or smoking, then that is their problem, right? I thought the same of my own situation.  It’s my right to inflict damage upon myself, so long as it’s not illegal and not harming anybody. That was a mistake.

One day not so long ago, I was watching TV with my father.  It was a program about loan shark businesses, companies who advance money in exchange for huge financial repayments. The question that came up was whether these companies should be regulated by the government. I said that people shouldn’t be so stupid as to get themselves into such a situation in the first place. My father argued that people are not always aware of what they are getting themselves into, and that taking a loan with one of the sharks seems like the most viable solution to them at that time, hence the need for outside control. Touche.

Also not long ago, I was talking with my partner about self-inflicted harm.  My point was once again that if someone wants to be reckless and potentially kill themselves, then so what? My partner immediately pointed out that the person harming them self was only a part of the whole equation. Everybody else in that persons entourage would also be affected. My thinking was clearly that of an egotist. Strike two!

Both of those situations struck a chord with me. I wouldn’t say that they were monumental revelations, but they were certainly enough to shift my thinking in the direction of trying to help people who might not otherwise be able to help themselves, and to be more empathetic toward those who find themselves victims of another’s reckless behavior.

Now you know a little about “who I am and why I’m here.”  Hopefully, over time you will learn more about me and about my goals in helping others to quit smoking. In the meantime, to answer the question “why should I care?” I have always cared, but I care even more now.

Health, Wealth and Slavery

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If I look back at why I quit smoking just over four years ago, I would say that it was driven by the desire to break away from the slavery, even though an unforeseen health scare precipitated my action to quit.  Wealth, or expense if you prefer, didn’t even come into the picture.

When people first start smoking, health issues are the furthest things from their minds. The average young adult doesn’t think about what cigarettes are doing to their bodies. Wealth is just a matter of getting some money together to afford the next pack, buying some rolling tobacco, or scrounging a few here and there from friends. Slavery isn’t even a consideration. Addiction is something that happens to others.  Besides, smoking is legal, so how bad can it really be?

Roll on a few years, and people start realizing that they’re hooked. “OK, so it’s addictive, and I will stop in the near future” they say to themselves.  On the plus side, there are no signs of health issues.  No serious health issues, that is.  Everybody gets a cold, and some mild wheezing in winter is to be expected. The expense is bearable, just about. Slavery rears its ugly head, but so long as there is hope in quitting one day, it’s all still under the smoker’s control.

And yet a few more years later and the wheezing and coughing is still there, although more frequently. Some shortness of breath while doing simple tasks starts to appear. But, overall the health is still OK. Smoking is still affordable, even if we struggle a little. There is always a way to get the nicotine fix, because that is what it has become; a fix. The realization that we really are addicted to smoking starts to creep in. We attempt to stop, once, twice, maybe a few times, but somehow things don’t work out. Something always prevents us from quitting, so we start smoking again.

We get frustrated, but at least we’re not dying of some hideous illness, yet.  We’re worried about cancer and emphysema, but only when we actually take the time to think about it. Luckily, our overall well-being hasn’t really been impacted so far. We continue to smoke, despite knowing the worsening health risks. We know from experience that we can afford to smoke.  It’s the damned slavery that really starts hitting home. “I don’t enjoy being bound by these chains. I want out!”

My partner has often told me that health-wise, nothing is wrong until it is. As I have written about before, we don’t know what is going wrong inside our bodies until it manifests itself in the form of symptoms. That’s what happened to me. I woke up one morning with a deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) in my left leg and subsequently had to spend ten days in hospital.  I was convinced that it was self-induced from smoking, even if the doctor’s declined to comment on the correlation, other than telling me “It’s time you quit smoking.”

On the face of it, in my case health trumped slavery. I was absolutely sick of being tied down to smoking and all that it entailed, but the health ‘incident’ happened before I could take action against being a slave. Would I have kicked the habit if it hadn’t been for the DVT?  I don’t rightfully know because I wasn’t given the choice. All I know is that I’m glad that the health scare wasn’t cancer. Either way, I’m a happy non-smoker these days.

To conclude, I don’t believe that wealth (or expense) should ever be used as a primary reason to quit smoking, because people will always find a way to obtain cheap tobacco. Health and slavery, on the other hand, should always be high on the agenda of reasons to quit. In fact, I would venture to say that you should seriously consider fighting the slavery first, before any health issues tear you down.

Smokers Are Drug Addicts Too!

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Typically, people who want to give up smoking have good reasons to back their decision. It could be that smoking is becoming too expensive for you. It might be that you fear health complications, perceived or real. Perhaps a smoking relative or friend of yours recently contracted or died of cancer. If you are pregnant, you may want to avoid damaging the health of your unborn child. If you are a partner of a non-smoker, you may want to quit out of respect for them. Whatever the reasons you want to quit, and no matter how much you believe in them, you still have to go through the motions of actually quitting and staying quit. Easier said than done, but millions before you have succeeded and so can you!

My humble opinion is that reasons alone don’t constitute a quit plan.  Aside from knowing that you want to quit, you also need to know how to quit. There are lots of tools and techniques available to help with the basics, such as whether or not you want to use Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) or go for it ‘cold-turkey’, and resources which talk about practical matters such as how to avoid situations where you may be tempted to smoke, or how to manage your cravings.  However, I haven’t seen much in the way of resources that address the broader picture of how to address the psychological aspects of tobacco addiction in a practical a manner.

The fact is that although nicotine is a powerful substance, its immediate effects are fairly limited in time. The longer-term psychological effects of tobacco addiction are far more reaching. The more time that has passed since you started smoking, the more ingrained the habit has become. For many people, smoking is an integral part of their life. For some, it is a part of their identity; “I am a smoker.” they say.

Simply getting rid of the physical addiction to nicotine, holding on to a list of reasons to quit and hoping for the best doesn’t seem to me to be the most appropriate way to guarantee success. The individual who wants to quit also has to unlearn a lot of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that have built up over time.

So, how do we get more people to quit and stay quit?  I believe the answer is through education, perhaps with more books focusing on what happens after the initial three-day nicotine depletion, and how to manage day-to-day after that.  This could be augmented by engaging more with qualified psychologists who have a clear understanding of substance abuse and how smokers can reintegrate into society as a non-smoker. Naturally, this is not necessary for every individual, but if there was a programmatic approach to ‘quit smoking’ counseling at an affordable price I’m sure the success rate could be much greater.