Age at interview: 37
Brief Outline: Abdul, 37, gave up smoking when he was 36. Abdul is British Bangladeshi, works as an outreach education officer, and lives with his partner. He started smoking with friends at school, and smoked mainly weed until university when he started smoking cigarettes as well. When he found his badminton was suffering because of his smoking he decided to give up. He thought of his identity as separate from smoking and is starting to look after his health more.

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Abdul’s remembers that his Dad used to smoke strong tobacco when he was young. Abdul himself smoked cannabis before smoking tobacco, and he started smoking cigarettes at university. He started smoking cannabis with his friends, hanging out in a car during the summer, smoking and listening to music. They didn’t have much money so they would all club together to get a £5 deal. When Abdul went to university, he started smoking cigarettes and was on ‘ten, fifteen a day before he knew it’. He also started drinking even though he wasn’t supposed to because of his cultural/religious background. He says that if he smoked a normal cigarette he could smoke three rollies. He mainly smoked cannabis in spliffs (with tobacco), and smoked skunk only when he was in parts of the country where he knew who to get it from. He smoked a lot of skunk during the period when his Dad died and he says that ‘it really messed up his outlook on the world’ as he couldn’t ‘function’. He wanted to block out the events in his family, but found he wasn’t ‘sharp enough in life and in work’.

Abdul noticed that he was playing sport with people who were less experienced than him, but much fitter, and he was ‘getting hammered’. One of the reasons he gave up was because he loved sport and thought he wasn’t allowing himself a fair chance. He started giving himself weeks off skunk at a time. Together with friends, he quit skunk and moved back to weed and he noticed the difference immediately. He knew the effect on his lungs had been ‘really bad’. Initially he couldn’t sleep and he said that in the middle of the night his brain would ‘go into some sort of real deep swirl’. He tried some herbal remedies which ‘weren’t any good’ for his insomnia. Soon he noticed that there was a good effect on his sporting abilities and he felt ‘clearer and healthier’. When he stopped smoking he didn’t get the munchies anymore, and so didn’t eat so many kebabs. He was still smoking rollies at this time. For a long time he enjoyed cannabis as it enabled him to de-stress from work and get some relief from a complicated family situation, but eventually he didn’t want to use that to deal with his issues. He did other drugs too but was never in danger of letting them take over his life in a way that he saw happening to others. He says that he and his friends have come out of doing ecstasy and speed ‘relatively well’ but others haven’t as they weren’t ‘built to cope with it’. He thought he came to it later than others. About three or four years ago he started to ‘calm that right down’ after days when his life consisted of going out, doing drugs, smoking pot, having a shower, and going out to work.

The first time he tried to give up smoking was just before Christmas during his MA year, but that wasn’t the right time, as everyone was going out and offering him cigarettes. Finally in September 2010 he was asked to do a 5km charity run for the victims of floods in Pakistan and as a smoker he was ‘really dreading that’. He stopped smoking for two days before the race and thought he should ‘give himself a chance’. He completed 7km and felt great. When he has been drinking he has since had ‘some lapses’ in which he has had the odd cigarette or rollies. He says he is ‘pretty certain’ that he has given up.

He built up to giving up by ‘demonizing’ the habit and was fed up with being ‘rubbish’ at badminton. He treated smoking like a ‘person’ or an ‘entity’. After he had given up he went to the doctor for a lung test and asked about what he could expect in the months to come, and the ‘best he was offered was a breath test’. He was told at the age of 37 that he had the lungs of a 48 year old and that was ‘a shocker’. He wasn’t sign-posted to any support. He thinks that men don’t go to the GP until it’s ‘too late’ and he doesn’t want to get into that situation.

Abdul has given up without Nicorette but says he has put on a bit of weight. He hasn’t talked with friends about his attempts to give up. He thinks that there are moments in which people have tested him, and he has had to remind himself of what he is trying to do. He doesn’t hold the health services in high regard and didn’t look up support on the internet. He thinks that men in general don’t hold doctors in very high regard. Abdul would like to have kids at some stage and thinks that he shouldn’t smoke as a parent. He thinks that smoking has led to the damaging of his gums and his teeth, with the result that he has had some teeth removed. He doesn’t want to look at too much information because he is frightened of what it might say. He thinks that now he is in a serious relationship he has to ‘fix himself’ and so is going to the doctor’s more.

Abdul didn’t tell his friends he was quitting, but one of his friends thought he couldn’t give up and that motivated him. After a couple of slips he managed to stop smoking altogether.

And did you try anything like Nicorette or anything like that?

I did buy a couple of boxes, but in the end I thought, you know, I, I didn’t, in the end in this attempt I’m making since September to give up smoking, I’ve not used a single bit of Nicorette gum or patch. I’ve done it, I’ve just got on with it. I’ve just got on with it. I wonder what I’ve done to replace it, you know, may be drunk a lot, more coffee, I put on a bit of weight. I have put on, I put on about half a stone, or three quarters of a stone. So that’s kind of had an impact on my badminton as well. Because I’m sluggish trying to get round the court. Because you can taste your food and you’re happy to eat more, and you’re replacing smoking with like, whatever. But yes, so, yes, I didn’t use any of that. I didn’t still feel I need to.

Did you use anything at all?

But yes, so, yes, I didn’t use any of that. No, I didn’t feel I needed to.

Did you use anything at all? Any sort of other techniques or substitutes or …?

Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing whatsoever. In the end when it’s come to giving up, I’ve not gone, other than that breath, lung test rather, I’ve not had anything, you know, I’ve not got any advice, additional advice or support, I’ve not used anything Nicorette patches or anything. I’ve just got on with it. I’ve not talked about it to people much. They know, you know, I’m in the situation. I was playing badminton with a friend. He’s a very good friend of mine actually. And he gave up a few years ago, but he smokes as a social smoker, and at the weekend when he’s a drinker. And, he said about four, not six weeks ago. “So have you, have you smoked?” I said, “Oh I had a couple of the other day. You know, but this was out drinking and I didn’t inhale either because …” “Oh you’ll never give up.” I mean he, there are a lot of smokers who can’t give up say that. You know, we know why they do that, because they feel they’re getting left behind. Other people have gone and achieved this thing and it kind of probably highlights to them, the situation that they are in and how they’re not able to do anything. You know, they’re disempowered effectively to do anything about it. And he goes on, “You’ll never give up, you know, whatever.” And that was the second spur for me, that the was the second spur. I thought right okay. It kind of annoyed me that he didn’t have faith. I didn’t. You know, I wasn’t angry but I thought right, he thinks that so I said no more, not even trying to non-inhale you know, and then we were out about two weeks ago, and I was, like, you know, really in a state, you know, out drinking and what have you. And there was him and another friend, all university mates, you know, from Keele. We got together. And in that whole evening, I didn’t have a single cigarette or even ask or look as if I wanted. And I didn’t even think about it. Then the next, you know, two days later at badminton, you know, my mate says, “You know what I couldn’t believe it. You were absolutely plastered and you didn’t even ask or weren’t interested in having a cigarette, a rollie.” So you know, but you have to have little moment stages along the way, where, you know, that kind of thing happens, where’s there somebody tests you, and it all kind of raises a certain issue. We’re all different anyway. And that was a nice little thing that he put me in a situation where I thought right okay, I’ve got to remind myself of what I’m trying to do here and get back on you know.

Abdul was a chain smoker – he started to hate smoking and felt that he had to “demonise” smoking in order to quit.

When I talked about giving up smoking, I said, “I’ve had to demonise it.” Which, and I knew at the time when I was trying to stop it, and I knew at the time when I was still smoking and hating it. I knew what I was doing. I was demonising it. I hated it. And I had nothing positive to say about it at that stage, you know, before I gave up that is, you know, leading in… I mean for years now I’ve been wanting to give up, you know, three, four years or whatever. And I was a chain smoker and it wasn’t good, you know, and you know, just in my mind hating it. You know, understanding what it was doing. And getting fed up about using it as an excuse for being rubbish at badminton effectively, and not very good. And recognising that I had to hate it in order to give it up. And that I had to treat it like a person. Or I tried to treat like an entity. You know, that somehow it wasn’t me, but it was this thing. You know, I suppose someone might have been possessed or something, I didn’t want it any more, you know. And that’s may be what it’s like thinking about it, being like possessed you know, in some kind of way, demonising it and saying, “Look I want I want to get rid of this. I’ve got to somehow exorcise and get rid of it.” You know, and almost taking you out of yourself, and then you seeing it over there and not you any more where you are. And that’s basically what’s happened I think, because I see smoking as other thing now, rather than this thing that was sitting where I’m sitting. And that’s how I understand it, you know, so, yes.

Abdul was a chain smoker and smoked a lot of cannabis at university and particularly after his father died. The effect on his lungs was ‘really bad’.

But prior to that my health had pretty much deteriorated. I wasn’t in a awful state, there were a lot of people well worse than me, but I knew my lungs were in a bad state, because I’d spent most of uni, the know the time at uni I was a chain smoker and I was smoking a lot of cannabis as well. And that degree of smoking continued when I returned to Birmingham, so I was chain smoking then, and rolling tobacco one after the other. And if I managed to get hold of, you know, by this time when I returned as well, I was well prepared to get my own sort of little kind, as you call it a stash of cannabis and keep it and smoke that. And I’d kind of like smoke loads of that until it until it knocked me out really, so yes.

So how you smoke, did you smoke spliffs or …?

Yes, yes, yes. I smoked yes, yes, yes.

Was it skunk or…?

There was a lot of that going round. I didn’t do much of that when I was at university. I mean strangely enough there was a period where, before I returned to Birmingham that was cut out, but it was mainly because I didn’t know where to get the supply from. You know, I ended up in parts of the country where we didn’t know enough people or we didn’t know where to… So there was a period where I didn’t do that. But when I returned, pick up with very good friends, where I rejoined my friends and they were doing it. I mean, obviously, this was, I’d been smoking at uni anyway, but there was, once I’d finished my undergraduate degree, the period between that and 2002 before I returned, I didn’t have much of that. But when I returned I got back into it again. Spliffs. You know, you get your stash, hang out with your friends, or on your own, whichever way really.

And there was a period when, when my Dad died where I ended up doing quite a lot. There was a lot of skunk going around, you know, and that became the prevailing thing, just because it was so easily available. And did that and over the four or five, four years, five years that I did that, kind of really messed up my kind of outlook on the world, because it just disables you really, you know. You can’t function. So I did that. Then decided right enough of that, no more. I’ve got to get on with life and then I sort of cut that out, but I was still smoking weed. But I could tell all along the impact on my lungs was really bad. Because I was chain smoking, you know, rolling tobacco, cigarettes and then chain smoking pot whenever I got that. So yes.
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Abdul first realised how smoking affected his fitness when he played badminton.

Well I mean when I picked up sport I realised how bad it was, you know, I mean it was really, it was inhibiting in terms of sport, and especially when you’re playing people, and I played badminton regularly, really regularly, and I played people who are very good at sport, who are much fitter than me and a good five or six years younger than me as well. So the compound effect of all of that, being younger, being healthier, smoking, not smoking, or smoking very little. These are the people that I’m playing with. I was getting hammered all the time.

And, you know, there was a period when one of the guys started the sport for the first time and I was absolutely winning and then once he got proficient at sports I had no chance, because he is, his fitness levels are so good, you know, good compared to mine, and you know, I used to frequently joke about how I wouldn’t, you know, in nowhere in any part of my life would I push myself physically in the way that I did at badminton because they'd got themselves to a level of proficiency and fitness for me to try and even keep up with carrying this habit of smoking, smoking both, you know, skunk and all that stuff, or, you know, weed, or spliffs as well as cigarettes, it just wasn’t [pprrrrr] you know, it was too much to try and keep it up.

So I mean, you could see very clearly the differences in health and fitness and general lung capacity. Yes.

Abdul felt a sense of achievement in doing a charity run with his friends and decided to try to quit smoking.

Then last year in September we had to do on the back of the floods in Pakistan, a few of the people in our social circle put on a charity run. That was in [place name]. And I said, “I want to do it.” And I was looking forward to it, but it was a 5km run, and I’m a smoker and I was like, I was really dreading that. I was so scared of that run, and I thought, look, you know, you haven’t been able to, give yourself a chance with it, will you, just give yourself a chance, and I thought, well there are two days. I think it was a Sunday we were meant to do the run on. Give yourself a chance, stop smoking for two days before it, at least. So I stopped smoking for two days, and that was the first time I’d had two days off in a row since 2001 in December when I was doing my Masters and I took that one month off before Christmas. And so I had those two days off, then I’d do the run. That was a third day, and I felt that after that run I’d never felt so good. Best thing I did last year was that run. I was completed in the end 7 km, the weather was brilliant. There was an enormous sense of achievement amongst everybody that was there. It was such a feel good thing. And of the two days that I’d given up before then, and then that day itself, I thought okay, you’ve done three days now. Don’t smoke today for the rest of the day and then see what happens when you wake up.

When Abdul went to the GP after he’d given up smoking he was surprised that there wasn’t more support and information available to reinforce the health benefits.

Did you get any other sort of help in giving up smoking?

There’s no help. I mean they say there’s help but there isn’t. I mean I had…

Tell me about that?

I had a lung test. This was after I’d given up and I went to the doctor and I said, “I wanted to ask about, you know, my giving up smoking. What kind of help or support. Can you tell me about what I will go through in the months to come.” And the nurse had nothing at all, nothing constructive to offer. She, the best thing she did was take a breath test, you know. At the end of which I was shocked you know. I play regular sport three to four, you know, three times a week I’d say on average. And she told me, you know, at the age of 37 that I had the lungs of a 48 year old and that was a shocker. Because you know, I’m still, you know, in many respects I’m fitter than the average person, because I play sport that often, and that regular. But I knew my lungs weren’t good. Because I chain smoke and I used to chain smoke like crazy with my, you know, the whole… cannabis which goes straight to your lungs. You’ve got no filter or anything, you know. And so I mean I was shocked, like 48, I thought blimey, you know, and when I mentioned it to some of my smoker friends they went really quiet, because they haven’t given up. There were some of my friends, and they were like whoa, and one said, “Yes, but…” You know, you could see the denial on his… “Yet but I went to have a test and the nurse said that there was nothing wrong with my lungs.” And I’m standing there thinking, you’ve been smoking as long as me. May be not as harsh as me, you know, as hard as me, but you’ve been smoking as long as me and not far off as much as me. Your lungs aren’t okay. I don’t know what test you took, but your lungs aren’t okay. You’re in denial. You know. I didn’t tell him all that but you could see them go quiet, because they understood suddenly like. He’s got lungs of 48 and he plays sport three times a week. What’s going on there?

But I just thought, but at the time when I wanted more she just didn’t seem to have any more to give in terms of, the nurse at the general practice I went to, and so I thought right fine I’ll just have to kind of muddle my way through it. But I didn’t, I didn’t think there was the support that they say is available. I certainly kind of, they didn’t sound like it to me.

So what type of support would you have wanted?

I don’t know. Someone to take me through some of the kind of the health things that would come along, with what are the phases, so you know, when you give up smoking, you know, what happened the first month? What will happened in say three months? What will happen in six months? What’s like to be the case in a year to two years? You know, how long does it take your lungs to clear completely? You know, will they ever be okay again? So this sort of thing. I thought that they should have this knowledge, you know, after all the smoking and these campaigns you know, to try and help people quit. I found that there was nothing you know. I thought she should have jumped at the chance of giving me the stuff. And she just didn’t, and I was just gob smacked that you know, I thought yes, okay, I’ve got lungs of a 48 year old. I have got anything else to happen? And she didn’t.
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