Quitting cigs is hard. Let’s not pretend otherwise

On Radio Scotland earlier there was a discussion about stopping smoking. Every single person I heard said how easy it was. Pick a date, get a wee bit hypnotised. No cravings. No irritation. No nothing.


Proper smokers don’t quit like that. When proper smokers quit – and by proper smokers I mean two lighters a day smokers, smokers who were chucked out of nursery for huffing B&Hes behind the tricycle sheds, smokers who wonder where the smoking area is when they’re scuba diving – when those smokers quit, there’s carnage.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unhappy that the radio people are ex-smokers. Binning the cigs is indisputably A Good Thing.

I just don’t like the way when stopping is discussed, it’s usually in the form of “I listened to one CD, felt a bit sleepy and woke up an ex-smoker. Now I run marathons, tear up telephone directories with my bare hands and cough ostentatiously whenever I smell tobacco.”

I don’t know a single ex-smoker whose experience was like that.

In my experience, if you go into stop-smoking-land expecting it to be all rainbows and summer days and bounding about in flowery fields like a fucking diddy, you’ll be back on the smokes by the afternoon.

I think maybe the the happy-clappy crowd are very lucky, or maybe they just have short memories. Not feeling cravings now doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have sucked the nicotine off a tramp’s fingers then.

For many people, the first few days are hellish, the following weeks are no picnic and it takes a year or more before you start to feel like you’ll never go back.

I stopped smoking in September 2009 thanks to a combination of willpower, worrying that I was going to die, and Champix. It wasn’t particularly easy. A few months later, I stopped taking Champix. That wasn’t particularly easy either.

It was, I think, my 3,000th attempt at stopping smoking.

What made that attempt different, I suspect, was that I knew exactly how hard it was going to be. I was prepared for it. Previously I’d had a bit of the “this will be a miracle cure!” approach to binning the cigs, to the point where I’d try any old shite that promised to get me off the fags. In no particular order, I’ve tried:

* Laser acupuncture at £80 a pop. I was younger then, and much more gullible. I went to several sessions because, hey! Lasers!

* Hypnotherapy. £90 to sit in a room with an idiot wondering why I wasn’t feeling sleepy, feeling sleepy, feeling sleepy.

* Cold turkey.

* Hypnotherapy again. £100 to sit in a room with an idiot in the hope that it was a therapist problem, not a “Gary can’t be hypnotised” problem. She gave me a cassette tape to listen to. It was the wrong cassette. It was about cake, and I’ve barely eaten cake since. I continued to smoke for a good fifteen years, however.

* Nicotine gum, nicotine patches, nicotine lozenges, nicotine inhalers.

* Hypnotherapy again, because somebody I knew had a friend who’d been to this woman and said she was awesome. £140 to sit in a room with an idiot with hilarious EMPHASIS on every SECOND or THIRD word. She made me throw my Zippo in the bin too. I loved that Zippo.

* Heroin.

Okay, I’m lying about the heroin. But what all of those things had in common – other than their mainly being bullshit ideas that cost a fortune – is that they weren’t the magic bullets I wanted, because magic bullets don’t exist.

My first stop-smoking attempt was when I was sixteen, and I continued to try and stop smoking on and off for 22 years. If stopping smoking were easy, I’d have been a non-smoker at seventeen.

I spent some time at the Western Infirmary last year – carpal tunnel and all that. The Western has an oncology ward, and if you’re walking past it you’ll often see patients, in scrubs, still hooked to IVs, having a fag.

That’s testament to how bloody difficult some people find quitting smoking: God is giving them the biggest fucking hint imaginable, and they’re still nipping out for a smoke. To paraphrase the NRA, you can have their cigarettes when you prise them out of their cold, dead hands.

Let’s not bullshit people here. Let’s be honest. Stopping smoking is shit. You don’t do it because it’s a laugh. You do it because the possible alternatives are so much worse.