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Anna

Age at interview: 47
Brief Outline: Anna, 47, gave up smoking when she was 40. She is German and works as a film development executive. Anna is married and lives with her husband and daughter. She started smoking on a school trip when she was 12. She developed into a ‘dedicated smoker’ quickly. Anna first gave up in her early 20s when she went to an Allen Carr group. She has given up and started again many times, but now hasn’t smoked for 6 years.

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Anna grew up in Germany; she started smoking on a school trip at the age of 12. She was very ‘anti-smoking’ but she wanted to smoke so that her friends didn’t ‘cut her out’ of what they were doing. Her Mum hated it, and she wouldn’t let Anna or her sister smoke at home but she ‘couldn’t really stop them’. She remembers feeling sick a few times but developed into ‘quite a dedicated smoker’ fairly quickly. She used to bring cheap tobacco to England, where she was at boarding school. She smoked when she was an undergraduate in the UK and she says that her husband has memories of her smoking and he says that she always looked really cool. However Anna says her identity was more ‘rollies and Greenham Common’ than ‘evening gown and golden-tipped cigarettes’.

Anna talks about the decision to give up smoking the first time and says that it was in the context of her trying to ‘get some control over certain things’ after she had finished an MA and didn’t know what to do. In addition her Mum’s godson, who was a really heavy smoker, managed to give up smoking. By this stage Anna thought it would be ‘quite nice not to smoke’ but knew she ‘couldn’t just stop’ and thought that if the godson could give up smoking ‘it must be possible’. It turns out that the person he was going to see to help him stop was Allen Carr, who at this time was just ‘operating in his own home’. She went to an Allen Carr group and talks about how they were allowed to smoke throughout the session but that at a certain point he told them ‘okay, this is your last fag’ and then she thought ‘this is just not going to work’. She says she thought it was going to be hypnosis, but that she didn’t feel hypnotized, just that he had ‘talked to her for a few hours’. She was about 23/24 at the time and gave up for ‘quite a bit’ after that. She says ‘he does this thing where he basically gets you to realise that actually you only feel good smoking because you’re withdrawing from nicotine’. Anna says that she discovered after that ‘if you haven’t smoked for a while and you have a cigarette, it makes you feel quite ill’. She found some surprising things when she gave up smoking, such as that she could drink more without getting a hangover. She used to be prone to getting throat infections and realised this didn’t happen when she didn’t smoke.

Anna gave up and started again several times over a period of years. When she moved back to Germany, Anna sort of ‘drifted back into smoking again’ as people were ‘really offended’ that she wouldn’t smoke dope with them. As a result of smoking cannabis together with tobacco she moved on to start smoking just tobacco again. She did give up once more and thinks she may have re-read the Allen Carr book. Then she quit for ‘quite a long time’ but afterwards went to film school where ‘absolutely everyone smoked’. She thought she could just go outside with the others and not smoke but she says ‘smokers do like other people to get… hooked again’. By this time Allen Carr had turned himself into a ‘big guru’ and had a Berlin office. She went to see him again as she thought she couldn’t give up by herself and ‘went through the whole thing again’. She thought it was the combination of going to Allen Carr and being ‘sick of it’ that helped her give up. She remembers that she started smoking again when she was working in England and recalls that her colleagues were shocked when she went from smoking nothing to 20-30 cigarettes a day. She wanted to make herself ‘sick of it’ and realised that she wasn’t using the ‘Allen Carr method’ but was trying to figure out how she did things to find a way of ‘dealing with her addictive tendencies’. The final time she started smoking again was when her Dad died. Various members of her family were ‘really heavy smokers’ and they all sat around ‘crying, smoking and occasionally drinking’ and she just joined in with them but knew she was only doing so for a short period of time. In between her father’s dying and his funeral she found out she was pregnant. She thought to herself ‘this is quite a shock’ and had one last cigarette on a balcony. She remembers this very clearly. Now she knows very few people who smoke and lots of people find the fact that she used to smoke ‘totally bizarre’. She finds it annoying that her GP still checks that she isn’t smoking after such a period of time. Now she doesn’t smoke she says she finds it ‘very liberating not to always have to have all these things [lighter, tobacco, papers]’ saying ‘now I just have to check for my key and my money’. She found that the key to quitting was turning ‘not smoking’ from a ‘you shouldn’t’ to ‘I don’t want to’. She thinks that ‘having someone say it’s not actually that hard felt good’
 

Many years ago, Anna went to one of the first Allen Carr clinics and, after attending, she managed to give up for some time.

Many years ago, Anna went to one of the first Allen Carr clinics and, after attending, she managed to give up for some time.

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And then my Mum’s godson, who was, who run a bike shop in Wimbledon who was quite a heavy smoker, really heavy smoker, and smoked really strong cigarettes, he gave up smoking. And I thought right if he can give up smoking. Because by this stage, I sort of think that it would probably be quite nice not to smoke, but I really knew that I couldn’t just stop. And I thought if he can give up smoking then, you know, it must be possible, because I thought he would die smoking sixty fags a day.

And he told me that he went to see this guy somewhere in, I think it was somewhere in Wimbledon who turned out to be Allen Carr the big smoking guru, but by this, he was just operating in his own home and he ran these courses, and so I think there were eight of us. And I remember I was in Brighton at the time. I got on the train and went to see this guy and had to take a cab and you know, he did this, I think it was a sort of four hour session with eight people present and there comes that moment when he sort of tells you, “This is going to be…” Throughout you’re allowed to smoke, which seemed good to me, and then he said, “Okay this is your last fag.” And everyone, you have to like the last cigarette and I thought this is just not going to work. Because I’d been told that it was hypnosis and I just thought, well, you know, I don’t feel like he’s hypnotised me at all. He’s just talked to me for a few hours.

And I remember having the last fag and then you leave your cigarettes with him. He had this huge pile of fags there. And I got, got back to the station and had that moment where you put your hand in your pocket and then the cigarettes and that slight moment of panic, and then I thought, well okay, you know.  And I remember getting on the train and deliberating sitting in the smoking compartment to check whether, how bad it was going to feel, or… And it felt all right. And I remember. I mean I must have been 23, 24 at the time, and I gave up smoking for quite a bit after that.

And I think it was, it was the fact that he’d, he’d sort of, he does this thing where he basically gets you to realise that actually you only feel good smoking because you’re withdrawing from nicotine and that felt like. I don’t know for some reason that, somehow, I can’t really explain what happened, but I seem to sort of remember that that was something that I would hold onto.
 

After she gave up smoking Anna’s hangovers were less severe, and she didn’t get as many throat infections.

After she gave up smoking Anna’s hangovers were less severe, and she didn’t get as many throat infections.

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I think again, I didn’t, I never had that sort of oh it’s going to be, you know, people keep saying this thing about oh you know, it makes you feel so much better, immediately and stuff…. But I do remember feeling like it was something I just didn’t want to tell me, people that discovered that you like… I remember one time I discovered that I could just drink so much more alcohol without feeling hung over. And it started to feel like Wonder woman. You know, so, go out at night, drink all this beer and wake up and feel really good in the morning. And I thought okay, so actually these hangovers were sort of quite, quite a lot of it was nicotine induced rather than, you know, just the alcohol, but then that wears off after a while, which was a strange phenomenon. That you don’t have that any more in the same… well in what my experience it wore off. So I think that was a really positive [laughs] it made me feel wow this is really good. This is good. Not that, you know, I’m advocating and then drinking a lot. But you suddenly realised just what it was doing to you.

And I suppose, as I say I used to, I mean I was really, really prone to getting throat infections and tonsillitis and all that sort of thing, and I think that, I could always tell that that’s no longer such a problem if I didn’t smoke.
 

When her GP asked Anna about her smoking and drinking habits during routine consultations it annoyed her and brought out a rebellious streak.

When her GP asked Anna about her smoking and drinking habits during routine consultations it annoyed her and brought out a rebellious streak.

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I don’t, I mean I don’t recall people really a) I just didn’t you know, when you’re younger you don’t go and see a doctor that much. And I don’t, I think people, I think they didn’t constant, they didn’t constantly ask you about it, in my recollection. I mean I don’t remember ever been asked about it at university or may be if they did ask me about it, I just thought that it’s… I have to be absolutely honest, I still have that. I still think I’ve come to see you about a medical problem, why are on do you feel that you’re entitled to talk to me about smoking? If I haven’t come up and said it’s a problem, why…? It actually it really bugs me when they ask me. So, “Are you still not smoking?” And I’m thinking you know, yes, no, is it any of your business. Just leave me alone, and maybe that’s also to do with the sort of, you know, it brings out the rebellious streak in me. I just if I want to smoke? Are you going to stop me smoking? [Laughs]. I guess that’s actually something that I do remember that I did associate smoking with being rebellious and I think that’s weirdly, I always look around and I think, I think younger kids don’t seem to feel that in quite the same way I used to think it was all about you know, being part of a sort of counter cultural rebellious sub group.

So you would... I’m just trying to think of other sort of health behaviours or something that you may think are a medical remit or not a medical remit in that sense. Would you ever say... I mean an equivalent would be talking about drinking?

I have a similar kind of thing. I think it’s, I mean in a way, I think it’s quite useful to have all this kind of information about units out there, but I keep looking at it and I keep thinking, well actually what they really saying is, don’t, don’t drink, well or only drink the amount that doesn’t, well really I think they’re really saying just don’t get more than the teeny weeniest bit tipsy. That’s really what they’re saying. And, yes, it’s probably, you know, you can measure it in units, but actually most people know anyway.
 

Anna was very anti smoking as a child and would hide cigarettes from adults so that they couldn’t smoke.

Anna was very anti smoking as a child and would hide cigarettes from adults so that they couldn’t smoke.

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I remember actually being, I used, as a child I used to steal people’s cigarettes and I would. I just think, actually, that was probably very, I just thought oh how I would have responded if a kid had done to me. We used to steal peoples fags and then they would sort of say, “Why did you do it?” And we’d say, “Well we don’t want you to die.” So it was like, you know, we’re trying to rescue you, we’re trying to… or we would kind of change the packaging so there was, there was a particular brand in German that’s called The Lord, and if you changed the L to an M it was, it was the German word for murder. So we’d change it while they weren’t looking. So we were sort of like a little anti smoking campaigners as at that point. And I remember, distinctly remember at the Natural History Museum where I grew up had a… the lung of a smoker on display and how disgusting it looked. And I went back two years ago to find it, but it’s no longer there [laughs]. I actually went and said, “I have this memory and was it there?” And then someone said, “No, no, no, you must be imagining it.” And they eventually found someone who said, “Yes, we did have this kind of a display…” It was like was I imagining this, because I had this really vivid memory of it. So yes, I mean I think, you know, there was definitely the sense that you shouldn’t do it, but I just thought well, you know, so what, you know, it was that sort of.. So I needed to find some way of turning it from a you shouldn’t to, I don’t want to. And I suppose... I don’t know, I just get the idea that it is weird that I do actually think that. I didn’t think it was going to work, so I had to… I didn’t think the sort of smoking bans and all that stuff would really have an effect, but I did get an idea that teenagers don’t, maybe I’m totally wrong, but I get the idea that they don’t have that same sort of, it’s not so much part of their culture or what you do. But then I guess it’s just, it has been marginalised and that makes it easier not to smoke I think for people.
 

Anna thought that smoking might be a ‘self-destructive’ act; she remembers the ‘bonding’ experience of smoking with her family when her father died.

Anna thought that smoking might be a ‘self-destructive’ act; she remembers the ‘bonding’ experience of smoking with her family when her father died.

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I think also now there are lots of people who find the fact that I used to smoke totally bizarre and can’t really imagine it. But I’d never say never, you know, you just sort of think if something bad happens in your life, you might actually feel a self destructive urge that you might want to go for a while.

I think now I would think it would be, maybe I’m more hooked on that sort of sense of you know, you know, the memory of my Dad dying and just thinking I feel really bad anyway, and it’s almost like you’re sort of wanting to, I suppose in a way the smoking was a way of connecting with, you know, let’s put it that, my “left over patch work family”. None of these people are… well apart from my half brother, none of these are sort of blood relatives. So it’s sort of like a way of bonding with them. And yes, also just sort of, I don’t know, almost, finding some, some way to amplify your bad, you know, just how sad you are, or it’s difficult. I think it’s difficult to explain. I think it’s also sort of that sense of, when losing someone who’s so where the grief sort of feels like it’s really physical and you almost want to do something that numbs that, that strange, physical sensation. So smoking and making yourself a little bit sick, as a result, almost does something. You know, it does a job. It does a weird job.
 

Anna had stopped smoking cigarettes, but then started smoking dope with friends and drifted back to tobacco.

Anna had stopped smoking cigarettes, but then started smoking dope with friends and drifted back to tobacco.

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I then discovered that, if you haven’t smoked for a while and you have a cigarette, it makes you feel quite ill, just like it does when you first…so I used to have this thing, where I’d think okay I want a cigarette now, but actually I can’t have what I’m craving, because if I have that first cigarette it’s going to taste vile, so I’m like, you know, I actually don’t get what I want as a result of, you know, I can’t, it’s actually totally impossible for me to satisfy this craving at this point in time. All I can do is get hooked and then satisfy it in about a week’s time, but that doesn’t, sort of defeats the object. So I think that was kind of, that was what stopped me, you know, having serious relapses.

But then I moved back home and I remember, I mean I think I sort of keep thinking it was probably like, it was a similar sort of thing to why I started smoking in the first place, I think people feel really put out that I wouldn’t smoke dope. So it was sort of like, okay, well, you know, just to make you feel better I will have a bit of it, so you won’t feel quite as stupid. And then, but obviously there was nicotine involved in smoking. And then I think that kind of turned in, turned into a thing where I then started to crave the nicotine again and then, you know, slowly but surely, I kind of could get what I wanted straight away, because I was used to smoking nicotine again. And I sort of drifted back into it. But gave up again. I think I just I think I might have re-read, did I re-read the book or maybe it was just sort of …
 

The last time Anna smoked was when her Dad was dying; she stopped soon afterwards when she found out she was pregnant.

The last time Anna smoked was when her Dad was dying; she stopped soon afterwards when she found out she was pregnant.

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So, and then I think the very last time I smoked which is about pretty much exactly five years ago, I think. No, no, it must be six now. Was when my Dad died and both my, well my sister, my step brother and my Dad’s second wife were really heavy smokers. So we were just sitting around the whole time crying, smoking and occasionally drinking. And I think it was, just sort of, I just thought, I’ll just join in with them. But they kind of knew that I was joining in with them for a short period of time. I kind of knew that this was just like okay, this is, I’m going to smoke throughout the mourning period. And then I’ll have to, you know, find a way of stopping this quite quickly.

And then what happened was that it sounds quite weird. But basically in between my Dad dying and his funeral I conceived my daughter, and then I think I found out that I was pregnant, sort of while I was still mourning. And I remembered I had, you know, getting the pregnancy test and sort of thinking, okay this is it, and going out and sitting on the balcony, lighting a fag, and thinking okay this is definitely the last cigarette [laughs] but, you know, I’m going to have it.
 

Anna found that she needed to exercise in ways that made her feel good, rather than activities that she felt she ‘should’ do.

Anna found that she needed to exercise in ways that made her feel good, rather than activities that she felt she ‘should’ do.

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So you said I’m going to start running and take back control in these other ways?

Yes, it never works does it? I mean I think I can sort of keep these things up for a very short period of time, you know, and you know, it’s like yo yo dieting and stuff, you’re just kind of like, okay I’m just going to put myself on this really impossible regime and it makes me feel good for about six weeks and then you just think ‘oh this is just too much work, I can’t’, and also it’s something that’s very much about sort of, it’s not about trying to listen or find out what really makes you feel good, it’s actually above some abstract notion as to what’s good, and I think, I think it got, sort of started to change for a little bit when I actually started to think, okay I’m going to do these things. Not because, you know, ‘they are good,’ in inverted commas, but because actually they make me feel good. So, I think it was sort of taking up some kind of exercise the first time and I really kind of persisted with that, when I started rowing. Because that was a) I just really enjoyed it, and b) I just liked the people, and it was all part of, you know, it wasn’t a solitary, I need to punish myself. It was more like, wow, I’m going to get down there. I’m going to see all these people and, you know, we’ll, I mean I did go sort of rowing in the snow, but you know, it was all about having quite a lot of fun. So that, I think that’s where it just, you know, I realised that I needed to do something else. And then, also I guess, well that was more, still more about other people, and enjoying it, and then I think that started when I, because I slipped a disc and started doing some yoga, just to, that was specifically for people who had back pain. And I remember sort of getting into that, and actually having that weird sensation where I thought, wow I’m always come out of this class, and I feel really happy and, and, making the sort of connection and thinking right that’s, you know, that’s what they always go on about, people, you know, like running, but I never, I always assumed I could probably run a marathon and never get the endorphin fix. So this obviously doesn’t work for me, and maybe I need to be more alert to, you know, what makes me feel good or actually, you know, I ended up thinking that makes me feel. I find that more interesting as well. So, you know, even within yoga I would still actually think oh I find things, I find it more interesting you know, where you’re kind of really trying to feel minute differences in your body rather than making a beautiful shape sort of on the outside.

So I think that’s, yes, that’s also about that might have feed me to thinking about smoking somehow. [Laughs] I don’t know.

So I guess thinking may be not about having an abstract idea of this is good and so on, do you start, are you saying you starting to own it more in that sense, started, or how did it work for you? If you didn’t just say I’m going to, you know, eat apples all day and run..

Yes. I think it was more about I owning it more is one way of putting it. I think it was more about not sort of being obsessed with the end product, but actually thinking, okay, it’s actually about now. How it makes me feel now. And so I suppose that feeds into the thing I said about, the smoking bit. I figured out that actually when you really have that, you’re sitting round everyone smoking, you’re thinking oh I’d really like a cigarette and may be you haven’t smoked for three months, and you think, well actually that doesn’t work. I can’t do it. So sort of, I think it was more about thinking about okay it’s not about some abstract notion I’m going to be fitter. It’s about actually this makes me feel better now or within… I think that sense of yes, what does it feel like now, rather than always… I think that’s probably true of most people when they are younger… always living in the future, rather than kind of thinking okay, you know, right now, does this make me feel good or bad or…
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