When you quit smoking, it's not as easy as giving up a vice. You have to become something else. You have to become a non-smoker. Just as the transition of non-smoker to smoker is often a complete life change (the differences being so subtle at first that we do not recognize it as such), so is it from smoker to non-smoker. When you decide you want to quit and you're just in the initial thought processes, you may notice the world around you. Many or all of your friends smoke. Few people you spend time with have made comments, whether good or bad, about your smoking. Most of the places where you go or hang out are smoker-friendly. These aren't coincidences; it's how the smoker world is constructed, just like drugs, alcohol, etc. You surround yourself with people who support or ignore your addiction.

As time goes by in the effort of quitting, it seems like everything in your life is subject to change. You become aware of all the places you can't go or the people you can't hang out with because they all tempt you to smoke. You seem to be tharted on all sides unless you take steps ahead of time. In order to quit smoking and stay a non-smoker, you have to expect most of your lifestyle to change.

I think that this is what trips most people up, aside from the addiction to nicotine. They don't want to upheave their whole lives because they don't see that smoking changed their lives to what they have become. By changing that much, the assumption is that the problem is bigger than it should be. No one wants to do that, and I don't blame them. But to an extent, it needs to be done.

It's the same deal with improving your diet. It can't help but infect your whole life, bleeding into areas you didn't realize were affected and dictated by food. If the reason for improving your diet is to improve your health, it's expected that working toward this goal would cause lifestyle changes.

As I struggle now to quit smoking for at least the fourth or fifth time, I am only now coming to realize what is involved and how hard it is to look at all that and still decide that it's worth going through. We all know how bad smoking is for you, but most side effects do not surface for a long time so that we are lulled into comfort with our environment way before serious physical problems arise. We all know that the short term struggles are nothing compared to the long term gains, but we have a hard time seeing that in any of our struggles, whether it's quitting smoking, college, careers, relationships, etc.

All that aside, I wish that there were something like AA for smokers. There may be an organization like that, but I've never heard of one. Smoking is not treated with nearly the severity that alcoholism is in our society, mostly because, I think, smoking is seen as an addiction that doesn't affect as many people per abuser. For example, a smoker that dies of cancer may be mourned by many but smoking isn't blamed for spouse abuse, car fatalities, or suicide. Smoking is considered a long term problem and is often treated as such. Society spends most of its time focus on smoking to prevent smoking before it starts, while drinking is seen as a healthy rite of passage. I could sure use an AA type program where I can gain the support of other people in my position.


As this node is read currently, I realize that, according to people how have read it recently, that there is an AA sort of support group for smokers. I also will note here that while I did manage to quit for 6 weeks after moving to PA in the summer of 2002, I am still a full time smoker. Jake and I are moving to Harrisburg in a few months, and I am hoping to try again once we're in a new place. You know, that illusion of a fresh start.

I've heard it said that the most important thing when quitting smoking is wanting to do it. Really wanting to and not doing it for anyone else, but for yourself. I, however, had no desire what-so-ever to quit smoking, yet I did. I loved smoking. It made me cool and popular. It made me feel great and I was often told that my smoking style, the way I inhaled, held the cigarette, put it out, was graceful, elegant and altogether, Hollywood starlet-like. I made smoking look good.

I started smoking late, at 19, in my first year of university. I'd try to quit several times, was sometimes a heavy smoker, sometimes not. At the time that I quit, however, I was inhaling an incredible 25-30 smokes a day. The first cigarette was usually consumed moments after I woke up. This is gross. I couldn't climb more than a flight of stairs without cursing, all my clothes stank permanently and I was starting to look old. And I started to worry about cancer.

One morning after a particularly destructive weekend, I awoke with a lung infection. I ignored it at first, thinking it was just a cough, but as the week progressed, I felt worse and I imagined the Grim Reaper coming to get me. Breathing became difficult. I thought I was going to die and die needlessly from poisoning myself. So I stopped. Cold poultry like.

I didn't want to. I still wish I smoked sometimes and I envy people who are smokers and have quitting to look forward to. I know I can not allow myself an occasional cigarette, because I am an all-or-nothing type of person. If I have one, then I am doomed and the last 8 months will have been in vain. I could not handle the guilt.

So to add to this already long node, I will add three suggestions/hints for quitting. If they helped me, someone who had no desire to quit in the first place, they might help you if you are actively seeking an end to your self-destructive behaviour.

Short Term Distractions

You may or may not notice that the craving that overwhelms you to have a cigarette is not on all the time. It comes and goes. A very self-analytical friend once timed his cravings and found that they lasted on average 1-4 minutes. Point is that if you stop and think about your desire to have a cigarette and you analyze what you are experiencing, you will see that the feeling is a ephemeral one. It's there and then it's not there. You only need to worry about it when it is there. And since it is only there for a few short minutes, you can quell it with some type of creative exercise.

I took to imaging myself having sex with the nearest person to me at that time. You may need to be careful if you decide to do this because sometimes the person closest to you might be someone you would never want to have sex with?or worse someone with whom it is illegal for you to have sex with (ie. Your sister, your dog). At times like these you might opt out to imagine having sex with famous people. Either way, you stop thinking about the cigarette you want to have and start thinking about something more productive.

Of course, you could choose to do something completely different during these short craving episodes, but remember it is best if that is some sort of mental activity that you can travel with. Some people say take up a new hobby, but your new hobby might not be easy to transport or always on hand (i.e. Playing the baritone saxophone, reading the Encyclopedia). You could play word games, I-spy with yourself, rhyming games, I don't know, whatever. You?re all a creative bunch! I just liked thinking of sex with strangers. It was an easy option.

Long Term Endurance Development

This is vital. Take on a sport that challenges your endurance. As your lungs heal and recover from the destruction and torment that you put them through over the years, they will be capable of greater performance. You will notice this improvement within a couple of weeks, and although your first attempts at jogging or team sports will be tragic, stick with it. I took up swimming, a sport I was involved in pre-smoking. On my first attempt I could swim 40 meters before I started wheezing. I am proud to announce that I can swim 1.5 kilometers without taking a break.

Set up semi-unrealistic challenges for yourself and promise yourself a cigarette if you can achieve them. I told myself that I could have a smoke when I swam 2.5 kilometers without a break in under an hour. The thing is if I ever accomplish this feat, the last thing I will want is a death stick. I know this because when I emerge from a mere 1.5 km swim, I enjoy how invincible and strong I feel. I am super, sexy and powerful. I shine. This alone keeps me from smoking. I wouldn't sacrifice that feeling for 5 minutes of inhaling toxins.

Bet on it

Make a substantial bet with a friend that you can quit and tell everyone about it. They will be your watchdogs. It helps if your friend is also attempting to quit. Make it an amount that you can't really afford to lose, but that isn't unrealistic. I bet 100 US $. I could have bet 10 000 US $, but that would have been pointless because it would have been obvious that wasn't payable by either party.

In the first two weeks of quitting I experienced some life dramas that demand increased smoke inhalation. I found out that my boyfriend already had a girlfriend and I fell off a dirt bike, several times, on a 7 day hell journey into the jungle (I was a new rider and my confidence was shot). Several times, I convinced myself that circumstances being what they were, that I deserved to smoke, that I owed it to myself to have a cigarette. Life was being mean, so who cares! I'll quit later. I almost bought a pack at those times, but remembered that that one inhalation was going to cost 100 bucks and people were watching me who knew about the bet. So I started thinking about sex with the guy selling cigarettes.

And I did it. Here I am 8 months later and, although I still miss smoking like mad some days, I know that I am now a non-smoker and will be until the end of my time here, in this place.

I've gotta chime in here and retell the method my older brother used to quit. He was your typical Hicksian two-lighters-a-day smoker. I don't know if he just made this up or got the idea from someone else or what, but it seemed to work. And it sure sounds like it would work.

The Method is: Take a Mason jar/canning jar/mayonaise jar with some tight cap. Clean it if it's dirty. Put in, I dunno, a half-cup/cup of water. Then place an assortment of cigarette butts. Shake. Let it mature for a day or two.

Any time you get the urge to have a cigarette, carefully open the jar and take a wiff.

That urge will be short lived.

As someone who recently quit smoking, and is 100% sure he will never have another cigarette, I must say that quitting smoking really isn't that complicated, once you realize how unimportant your petty desires for a cigarette actually are.

I just plain woke up and quit smoking. It wasn't even that difficult. I just woke up, and the first thought on my mind was "I should quit smoking", and that day was the first day in five years I didn't have a cigarette. How did I do it?

It's really fucking simple, people: Don't smoke. When you want a cigarette, just realize that your body is being defective, lying to you, and that you don't actually want one, and that a part of you will hate yourself, deservedly so, for your inability to practice basic restraint and sacrifice for your own greater good. Realize that you have a higher, more evolved layer of thought going through your mind that caused you to decide to quit smoking, to go against what your body thinks it wants, and if you are truly a strong person, you will not need to do what your most banal desires tell you.

Keep in mind that it is very possible, simply by resisting all desire to smoke, not to smoke. This means that if you do decide to smoke again, it's because you think that you are unable to cope with the unpleasantness of quitting, when clearly it is possible. No matter how you look at it, you're smoking another cigarette because you believe that you are weaker than the cigarettes, not because the cigarettes are stronger than you.

I have my doubts as to the value of certain products and approaches to quitting smoking such as nicotine chewing gum, patches, therapy, etc. Perhaps they are all effective to an extent for some, but all of these make the basic assumption that a person can not quit smoking on their own. They promise to make the person able to quit smoking, to make it easier.

No.

If you think that you as a person can't hack a quit without "help", you probably aren't going to succeed. Thinking you can't is the barrier. Yes, you'll feel shitty. Yes, you'll be irritated. Yes, you may get a headache. Yes, you might have a slight urge to kill other people. But you don't NEED to smoke again. All of these symptoms are irrelevent, temporary, transient. They will go away if you are focused on your higher goal of quitting smoking.

Just fucking do it, and when you succeed, never have another puff again in your entire life.

Deciding whether to quit smoking (how-to)

This is intended for people deciding or trying to quit. I'm trying to help.

If you smoke and want to quit, or know a smoking friend and feel like butting in, you might read this. If you're not interested in quitting, hate people harping on about it, or feel it's a lifestyle, or have already decided, please skip this and look at some other node.

Quitting smoking is easier said than done. Smoking feels good, it's relaxing and relieves tension. The first few drags off a fresh cigarette give a little rush. Give that up and you don't get those good feelings, you get withdrawal symptoms. That's why it's so addictive.

Smoking isn't exactly healthy, and may slowly kill some people, while others smoke all their lives and live to a ripe old age. Place your bets.

Smoking bothers some people. It doesn't bother me, and I think most people are polite and understanding. A whiff of cigarette smoke may be a pleasant memory of things past.

It can be difficult to give up all the relaxation, all the little rushes, and the avoidance of withdrawal, by dropping one small activity. There's a good movie, Dead Again *, that might help someone who's trying to decide.

Some people decide to be a non-smoker and, somehow, they do that. Thinking about wanting or trying to quit may help. One weighs it; thinks of giving self-permission, maybe.

I did not get much success from trying to quit. Lord knows I tried lots of times over a six-year period. I finally reached the point where I gave up trying, and haven't smoked cigarettes since around 1994.

Trying is OK. Cutting down can be good-- it's not the same as quitting; it may put someone back again at the crossroad of decision.

I think I had some trouble realizing a decision and not having to struggle anymore-- that point where no trying is needed because there is no struggle left. The point of no return.

There may be continuing recognition that things can go various ways, and that decisions may be returned to rather than ignored or buried.

Some say they want to quit. Others know someone whom they'd like to see quit. Some find it easier to do, some find it rather hard. You probably know people who say they're trying to quit. Quitting smoking usually takes several "tries".

One might look at "Trying to quit" as "Decided to quit, and had a setback". Then go back to the decision: "Smoker or not, what's the decision?" That may result in becoming a non-smoker, or not.

If you've tried before, you may know quitting can feel bad, and creepy, for the first week or two. You might decide to start by having only 4 or 5 a day if you were on 1 pack, or a few more if you smoked more. It causes physical withdrawal any way you do it. Cutting down first might be better than cold turkey. Take a little edge off the physical withdrawal. That might help someone stay firmly decided, and so not give up the struggle. The initial withdrawal from 1 or 2 packs a day can be overwhelming-- a struggle.

The first week, cut way down (or maybe try cold turkey; good luck). Know what you are doing, and why. The quit smoking guides talk about writing down each smoke, the time, why you did it, etc. That might help; I think it's a waste of time. You'll know how many you smoked, and you already know why you smoke.

I went through that phase many times before realizing it wasn't going to work unless I continued to return to the decision-making process and re-affirm the decision-- A smoker or not a smoker?

The good news is that most of the physical withdrawal from nicotine is over in a week or two. Then you can go for two or three days without having to smoke due to physical withdrawal effects. You may still hanker for it. You may also take some enjoyment from realizing you're very close to dealing with the monkey.

The bad news is small cravings probably recur. There are two reasons for that: Physical and mental.

The nicotine stored in the body builds up over time. So, it takes time to eliminate. A body can continue purging smaller and smaller amounts of nicotine for many weeks. Each time that happens there may be another experience of craving. Expect it. Be prepared. The cravings do go away. Trust on that, wait a day, the craving will go away. Allow for this discovery to happen.

Smoking can also be a mental/psychological/social addiction, especially when there is extra stress. Find something else to do when there is stress. Chew gum (not the nicotine gum). Find something else, a comfort less bad than smoking. Have a plan to divert the mind away from smoking. Buy a jar of nuts, mints, chocolates, jelly beans-- whatever comforts. Also it may help to temporarily avoid people who light up together.

That can be tough. There is no physical addiction, but the mind still says, "I want that." Tell the mind, "Sorry mind, I DECIDED not to smoke 'em".

Things do change. Bad physical cravings go away pretty quickly, and within 6 months to a year the mental cravings also go away.

Bad news there. Be prepared for possible challenges along the way. I know, 6 months to a year seems like a long time, but for me the mental aspect of smoking stayed for a long time after quitting. Heck, 6 months later I used to wake up, after dreaming about smoking, realizing it was so pleasurable, and feeling slightly guilty. My mind was still craving.

For me, the hardest lesson was to get past the idea I could buy a pack and only smoke a couple. I know that did not work for me. You may be different. I know people who only smoke one occasionally. I don't think any of them ever buy a pack; they sometimes join in when they are with a smoking friend; "Hey, can I have one of those?"

At this point, every friends-scene, bar-scene, social scene could be approached firmly knowing, "I'm not a smoker". I suggest telling people that. You might think they're going to watch you, to see if it's true, or they may give encouragement to you.

Now, go to places where people smoke, smell the nice aroma of their cigarettes and say, with assurance, "That smells good. I'm not smoking now." Feel confident and good about that. Take a little energy from it. Go home after a party and wonder, "Why do my clothes and my hair smell so bad? I never realized how bad that is!"

* - Credit to the movie "Dead Again" for helping me realize this. If you are trying to quit, try watching the movie. It's a good movie, with Kenneth Branaugh, Emma Thompson, Robin Williams, Derek Jacoby, and Andy Garcia. It helped me decide.

I was going to write about how I have nothing to write about, when my olfactory senses detected that one of my apartment neighbors was smoking a cigarette.

I smoked from the age of 18 and a half all the way till almost age 32, roughly about 13 years, but I didn't REALLY keep track of the day I first smoked and the day I last smoked.

At first, cigarette smoking was generally pleasurable for me. I would experience a mild high from smoking one, though I could feel my heart racing and my nerves becoming just a little bit more sensitive more than anything. I kept my smoking to a minimum, and at this point 3 cigarettes a day was probably the most I would manage.

As time went on, I wound up going to 5, and then 10 cigarettes a day, but it took several years before I ever got close to a pack a day and even then it was 16-18 out of 20. I should mention at this point that I was smoking Marlboro Light 100's to start out, and due to friend always handing me cigarettes to smoke, I later went to Marlboro Reds, and then I backed down to Marlboro Mediums.

Then I joined the military (US Navy) and during my 2 months of boot camp, I wasn't allowed a single cigarette. It was during this period that I discovered that I could actually free myself from the need to smoke and that I figured 3 days was what it took to get the stuff out of my system, but the habit was more like 2-3 weeks.

Unfortunately, as soon as I graduated boot camp, I eagerly lit up (as it wasn't MY choice to quit at this point). I had to stay for an additional month for "apprentice training" as a seaman, but I was allowed off the base during certain hours of the day.

Most people took the train from Great Lakes, Illinois to Chicago and bought cigarettes, got wasted in a bar, and handed over money to strippers. I satisfied myself with going to the train station, buying cigarettes there, and after I was done, there was nearly always a bum ready to take my cigarettes as I wasn't able to have them on base.

When I got to my first duty station, I was told I could smoke in my barracks as long as my roommate was ok with it, and in general, he was, though he himself didn't smoke. I still tried to keep the window cracked open which was difficult considering where I was stationed.

I got out of the military and was pretty much still doing 10-15 cigarettes a day, one per hour max. By this point I had been smoking for 6 years and didn't really feel that bad. I started noticing that after I finished eating, I would cough a few times, and then almost immediately would finish with a cigarette.

Towards the end of the 13 some odd years, I was feeling like crap as a result of the smoking. I would wake up feeling as if I had Hervé Villechaize standing on my chest, and I would frequently cough with a dry irritated throat. I had decided I was going to quit but I had trouble managing the whole thing other than the time I was forced to quit.

Now I'm not exactly the most religious person, but I do believe in God, and I do make prayers, and this seemed a fitting time to do so. I made one of those prayers that you hear about in the movies. I said "If you'll help me quit smoking, I promise I will NEVER smoke another cigarette again."

Some would say it was coincidence, but almost immediately after that, I found that my finances were especially tight. I had a lot of bills to pay, I didn't have a very good paycheck at that time, and I literally had to try to decide "Do I want to smoke or would I rather eat?". I chose eating, since all my knowledge of how well smoking kept my hunger under control also involved lots of Coffee with sugar and cream. In fact, it's possible the sugar and cream was mostly responsible.

The first day was almost torture, but I made it through, but the 2nd day was even worse. I was seriously craving a cigarette, but of course I couldn't even afford one at this point. I could have gone to a friend and begged him for a cigarette but I didn't want to do that. I had asked for this, remember?

On the third day I felt angry, irritable, almost as if every nerve in my body was crying out in anguish for a damn cigarette... it was to the point where I would probably have gotten into a fist fight with someone if they asked me "how's it going?"

After the 3rd day the need for a cigarette dropped off... it was sorta still there, but I wasn't going to rip someone's head off for one. Most of what I felt at this point was just the need from habit. I was used to waking up and having a cigarette. I was used to having a cigarette in my mouth every couple of hours at least. I was used to having one after I finished eating. I sorta missed these times, but not enough to go back. Plus I still couldn't afford it.

After 2 weeks of noticing painfully every time where I WOULD be having a cigarette, I started noticing instead how much more I could do because I didn't need to stop for a cigarette break, and/or didn't need to step outside to a smoking area to have it.

So after almost a month, I was feeling truly "smoke free" and after a few months I started feeling better. After a year or so I noticed my sense of smell returning. After a couple of years, I noticed that I could no longer stand to be in a smokey room for more than a few minutes. And of course, I can now smell when my neighbor lights up a cigarette through the apartment walls.

I've been smoke free for 5 and a half years as of this writing. Supposedly after this much time, my risk of a stroke has gone back to normal. I still have 10 more years to go before my risk of heart attack is down to normal levels.

My dad smoked very nearly all his life (and filterless cigarettes to boot) and towards the end of his life, he had a heart attack, reduced lung function (I can't say for sure if it was emphysema) and I believe his lifespan was greatly decreased because of it.

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