Smoking’s bad for you, right? We all know it. More than 50% of the deaths in my corporate thriller Up In Smoke were caused by smoking. The World Health Organisation says tobacco kills half its users. While as a British crime writer, you might expect me to be drinking gallons of whisky surrounded by a blue fug of cigarette smoke, I’ll leave that to the gumshoes of legend. Strong coffee is a different matter, as I said in my blog two weeks ago.
In my younger days I smoked occasionally, enjoying the hit (confidence, clarity of thought, feeling like a superhero) without getting hooked. Only once did the spectre of addiction loom; when I thought “I could really use a cigarette right now; it’s exactly the time of day I had one yesterday and the day before.” That’s the moment I walked away. So many friends and family had spent years grappling with their nicotine addiction, and if you can’t beat it, the consequences aren’t pleasant (as Tony, the fast-living, womanising, tobacco boss discovered in Up In Smoke).
Why is it so hard to give up? Like any addictive substance, nicotine has physical withdrawal symptoms. The hit I received lighting up was a beautiful, positive blast of pleasure. Imagine the exact opposite; that all the joy, confidence and energy has been sucked out of your life, leaving you with the headache from Hell. On top of the physical symptoms, there are the psychological ones: missing your smoking breaks at work and the camaraderie of fellow smokers, fidgeting with your fingers when there’s no fag to hold, comfort eating.
So quitting’s not easy – but it doesn’t have to feel tortured and lonely. There’s lots of support out there, and No Smoking Day is proof of that. Run in the UK by the British Heart Foundation, it’s this Wednesday, 11th March. There’s a wealth of resources and, importantly, encouragement from other smokers and non-smokers. I’m sure the timing is no accident, either. In the spring, days are lighter and it’s much easier to start a new initiative. New Year resolutions, made in the depths of winter, have a 90% failure rate – although I’m pleased to say that I’ve succeeded with mine so far (it was to blog once a week)!
Having a supportive buddy is one of the best ways to make changes, of course, in any area of life – not just smoking. Addicts who give No Smoking Day a miss will vastly increase their chances of quitting later if they hook up with a buddy to cheer them on.
A longer, healthier life, and more disposable income are such great goals, there’s no need to give up on giving up. With so many cessation methods available, even if one doesn’t work, another will. Hypnotherapy, e-cigarettes, nicotine gum and good old-fashioned willpower – all have their fans. The psychological blocks to quitting aren’t insurmountable either. The US site http://smokefree.gov/cravings has excellent advice for dealing with them, for example taking a deep breath and focusing on all the cash you’re saving. At £9 a pack, it adds up fast.
After all, the only winners from smoking are the Big Tobacco companies and, worse, the counterfeiters who make fake cigarettes. Thriller Up In Smoke, while humorous and entertaining (read this great review by Ron Askew), pulls no punches about the devastating effect of tobacco on its consumers. You can buy it here for as little as £1.99 – far less than the cost of a packet of cigarettes, and just possibly, the best investment you’ll ever make.