by Dr. Iain Corness
Giving up cigarettes - “It’s easy! I’ve done it lots of times!”
A friend of mine emailed me this week
to say that it was 10 years since he gave up smoking. Unfortunately for him
he should have given up about 20 years before, as he is now confined to a
wheelchair and needs continuous oxygen just to survive. He admitted that he
still wants a cigarette and even dreams about smoking and the feeling of
panic, in the dream, where he loses the cigarette packet.
I used to smoke 45 cigarettes a day. I gave up 33 years ago at 10 o’clock in
the morning, not that I’m counting or anything! It was probably one of the
most momentous decisions I have ever made, but definitely one of the best
decisions I ever made about my health.
It was 1981 and I had started smoking as a medical student around 20 years
previously. It was just the done thing at the time. We all smoked, it made
us feel older and more mature. After all, our fathers all smoked, so it was
almost a ‘badge’ of adulthood. A rite of passage, perhaps.
As the evidence began to mount up against cigarette smoking at the end of
the 70’s and the early80’s, I found myself in the ridiculous position of
advising patients to give up smoking, while I hid my ashtray in the bottom
drawer of my desk, and waved my hand around a lot to clear the air before
the next patient came in!
Like all smokers, I was able to rationalize my stand. I was advising
patients whose lung function tests were down, but mine were perfect. If mine
fell, then I certainly would give up smoking immediately. Yes, you are way
in front of me, aren’t you! I had to test my lung function machine one day -
and there was the proof - my respiratory function was 15 percent below the
“average” for my age and height. It was ‘bite the bullet’ time! The biter
was bit, hoist by my own petard and other aphorisms.
So I just gave up smoking. It was going to be easy, because I still
considered myself to be a “social” smoker. I could give up when I felt like
it. I expected that there would be a couple of ‘difficult’ days, but then
the cravings would abate and I would be smoke free again. Two days was an
understatement. For two weeks I would follow other smokers down the road,
nostrils flared and twitching as I desperately tried to get a whiff of their
second hand nicotine. I would look at ashtrays, wondering if I could take a
quick lick before anyone would notice my bizarre behavior. Really, it was a
very stressful time of my life.
But after two weeks, the cravings became less, I was able to have a beer
without looking for a cigarette at the same time and I had schooled myself
into saying, “Thanks, but I don’t smoke,” when offered a cigarette. But it
was still very difficult.
In fact, it still is very difficult. I am sure that if I smoked a cigarette
today I would be smoking 20 tomorrow and 45 the day after. But I don’t,
because I made a conscious decision, based on medical knowledge, all those
Today, the medical evidence is not just suggestive, it is totally
compelling. Cigarette smoking increases your chances of getting just about
everything you don’t want, from crow’s feet to cataracts to cancers (all of
them, not just lung cancer). So why do we still smoke, any rational member
of society would ask? The simple answer is that we, as a society, have been
manipulated by big business into taking an extremely addictive drug called
Like all addicts we do not wish to admit to addiction, saying, “I can kick
the habit any time I want. I just don’t want to right now.” It isn’t your
‘fault’ that you are continuing to smoke. It isn’t your fault that you have
returned to smoking after some time of being a non-smoker. It is a drug of
addiction and next week I’ll tell you how to stop - permanently!
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