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Giving up smoking

Being a non-smoker

It can be hard to be sure when someone has become a ‘non-smoker’. People talked about being sure they would never smoke and couldn’t imagine how they had ever smoked. Often they couldn’t stand the smell of cigarettes or couldn’t be near anybody who smoked. Others said that they still missed smoking but had accepted that they weren’t going to smoke again since experience had shown them that they couldn’t have ‘just one cigarette’ without starting again.

Feeling certain
 

After over two years Tam considers herself to be a non-smoker. She might sometimes be tempted but feels confident she won’t smoke again.

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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I was going to say, would you definitely, do you feel like you’re a non smoker?

Now I do. Yes, I’ve done two years now, two and a …it’s got to be three years next March, next May. So yes, I couldn’t go back to it now, not after three years. It would just be, you know, I can class myself as a non smoker on medical forms and things and I wouldn’t want to throw it away. I wouldn’t want to throw that time away. I couldn’t afford it now. Partly that. I want to throw it away.

And our neighbour smokes and any time you want one, just go and stand near our back door and listen to him cough his guts up. It’s grim. We both think thank God we’ve given up.

Because [name of partner] did manage one, he cracked it eventually. Because again, I mean all the times I could have used him as an excuse to go back on it. I didn’t because it’s your own personal battle. No one else’s, and it took him a little while. It took him three months, but he, he got his moment and went with it. He’s been given up I think a couple of years now. So it’s nice being in a non smoking house.

And do you feel sort of the image of smoking has changed over the years?

Yes. Well obviously it does change when you become a parent. You go from, I don’t know, when you see the cool kids, you know, the cool boys on their bikes, you go from thinking God when I was younger you think you’re cool to…. Oh gosh you’re not wearing a crash helmet [laughs].

Yes the whole smoking thing is horrible. I think I enjoyed it at the time, but I’m so glad that I’m not part of that now and not controlled by the [2 sec pause] … Because no there’s nothing good about it. It’s an expensive habit.

Are here any points now where you are really tempted to have a fag or…?

Now and then I still get it. The other week when I was seriously tempted to put little un on Ebay, but it’s just, it’s not going to cure anything. It’s not going to make anything better. It sounds pretty grim now, but I think if I got diagnosed with a terminal illness I’d probably go back on ‘em. If only I was going to die, you know, if I had six weeks I’d be back on them [laughs]. Because there’s no point not being on them. But other than that no. No because it is just… I still sometimes I’ll wait, you know, every couple of months me and the girls will have a night out and sometimes I think, ooh I can have a drink and cigarette. And then it’s like well no you can’t, you’re pregnant. But no I can’t. I don’t do that anymore. And I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t want to, I wouldn’t want to risk it, because it just takes one to fall back off that wagon. And I’ve got two and a half years under my belt, so I’m not going to risk it.
 

When Keith returned home from hospital after having had a TIA (or mini stroke), he felt like a non-smoker and was relieved.

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Age at interview: 59
Sex: Male
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When I got home I threw all the lighters away as a little gesture. A big gesture. And any old stray cigarette packets or anything to do with smoking at all. Just threw it out, with some pleasure, and put it in the bin, and that was it. That was the actual symbol of me not smoking any more.

What was the pleasure about it at that stage?

Oh I was just relieved. It was like a great weight off my shoulders. It was one threat to my health that I’d got rid of. Of course it didn’t stop the desire to smoke at all. But it was a symbolic and actual gesture of stopping smoking yes.

So it was. It was a real relief that I generally believed that I was a non smoker from that time. It was true, yes. I was.
 

Chris felt proud of herself that she had managed to quit, particularly as everybody thought she wouldn’t. She still sometimes fancies a cigarette but knows she won’t have one.

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
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And how do you feel in yourself that you managed to give up smoking successfully?

I feel very good in myself. I’m really pleased with myself for doing it. Because even I didn’t think I would ever, ever do it, and none of my family ever thought I would. I was. All my photographs are in the attic now, but if you look at some of the old photographs in nearly every, even in my wedding photographs, have got a cigarette on. Everything is with cigarette. Absolutely everything, and nobody ever thought I would ever give up smoking and now that they’re all just amazed really and so proud. They don’t smoke in front of me. They nearly all go in the garden. They won’t even do like [name of husband] does and smoke in the kitchen. You know. And I feel really good the fact I’ve done it. And I know that no way, even if you hadn’t have done this and it’s going to go on the web and I just know I just won’t smoke again. I won’t. You know, because, because I still fancy one and I know [name of husband]’s got cigarettes if I want one I can just take one, but I just know I won’t. I just know. It’s just something. I don’t know. I don’t know what it is. But I just know I won’t smoke ever, ever again.

The only time I’ve ever said that I would pick up a cigarette is if one day I go to the hospital and they say, “Chris you’ve got cancer.” And then I shall just buy 20 cigarettes and smoke the lot. Because to me, there’s nothing else. It don’t...You know, they can’t say those 20 cigarettes you could live another few month months. I’d rather live those fewer more months and enjoy my life. That’s how I feel, but up until then and I hope touch wood it will never happen I will never pick a cigarette up again.
 

Roger saw the x-ray showing he had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and gave up smoking soon afterwards. He hasn’t smoked since.

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Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
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I went to the doctor, and I had, I got sent for an X-ray, and I made an appointment to see the doctor with a view to perhaps giving up smoking, but I had to go back to get the results of the X-ray. And I was told that I had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and that part of my lung had been damaged by the effects of smoking for so long. And I thought ‘oh, God.’ So the doctor then explained that if I quit smoking now, it would stop it getting any worse. But it wouldn’t repair the damage that had been done. If I continued to smoke one thing that was absolutely certain, as night follows day, that my lungs would become totally buggered. That was, I didn’t need to know any more. Straight on Champix. The instructions were to give yourself a date within the second week of the course to quit, and I was seeing the nurse every week, and on the second week, she said, “Well what day have you given yourself?” and I said, “I haven’t,” and she said, “But you’re supposed to.” I said, “No. No, I’m going to quit, but I’m going to quit when I’m ready. And that was on the fourth week, and it was a Whit Bank Holiday and it was the Saturday before the Whitsun Bank Holiday, and at quarter to midnight I had a cigarette, and I thought ‘this tastes vile.’ And I went into the toilet and emptied all the tobacco into the toilet, emptied my cigarette papers into the toilet, luckily there are only five, and flushed, and I’ve never touched them since. Never had a cigarette since.
Different lives

People spoke about the positive effect of giving up on their social lives and daily routines. Caroline no longer had to plan her days around cigarettes, and Sue could now do long train journeys without worrying. Occasionally Andrew and Andy had felt that they were left alone in pubs when their friends went outside to smoke, but that had lessened. Angela was glad that she no longer had to panic whether she had any more cigarettes left.
 
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Judith noticed small changes in her lifestyle as a non-smoker, such as staying in the theatre during an interval. [TEXT ONLY]

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
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When I was trying to give up it was easier for me to give up, just not smoking indoors, so in theatres, at cinema, wherever, it meant that there was already that dissociation. In a way, yes, you could go out and have one, but that was, it was a, it was a deliberate action. You had to go and be removed from that situation to actually have your cigarette. So when I stopped, I could still go out for a meal. I could still go to I went to the theatre one night. My Mum and Dad had got me a ticket. And I had never experienced staying in at the interval. And it was really nice just to talk to them and not go the whole evening without really speaking to them. Because when you’re in there watching the show, interval time you go out you’re having your cigarette and come back, the show starts again and then it’s essentially you go home after that. So yes, it was just, the smoking ban definitely helped me, and I think it’s been a really positive thing. The only downside to it, is the fact that the entrances to places are now just complete smoke filled environments and the thing is, as a smoker, I would have stood my ground and like I’m outside, I doing what’s necessary. You’re ostracised constantly as a smoker. You really are and there is that feeling of you have to kind of stand up for yourself. As a non smoker now, I still respect the right to smoke outside, but I do find it quite a lot when I’m going past a big hoard of people smoking. Because I’ve got emphysema and because it’s got an immediate effect now. I’m not getting smoke into my lungs at any other time now. So my lungs are, you know, settled to a point and so when that happens, it immediately closes them up and I struggle a bit to breathe, especially if I’m then going upstairs or whatever. And I, I think [coughs] it’s almost unacceptable. It’s potentially maybe necessary but it’s almost it’s almost unacceptable for me to go past and hold my nose and hold my breath, because they would think of that as being really cheeky, a real slight on them, but I wish that that was acceptable. It’s no judgement on them. It’s just that I really don’t want to breathe in the smoke. So that’s the only downside, is that there’s now very concentrated groups of smokers in, you know, the areas very concentrated outside.
Different identities

The image of smoking has changed over the years, and smoking has for various reasons become less socially accepted. Some people noted that those who had met them since they stopped found it very hard to see them as ever being a smoker.
 

Andrew was certain he had given up and has since trained for the London Marathon.

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Age at interview: 32
Sex: Male
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Does this time feel final to you?

Yes. It does.

Why do you think that is? What feels final about it?

Just is. It’s been 18 months, 20 months now. So that’s the longest I’ve given up for. But this time I gave up I wanted to and it was for me. I didn’t want to it wasn’t easy to give up, but now, I sort of just, I’ve not completely changed my lifestyle, but I do exercise. I run the London marathon, which I couldn’t have done if I smoked. I exercise, I exercise an awful lot which I wouldn’t do, and I enjoy doing it.

To some extent I’ve probably, I’ve probably swapped I’ve probably, I’ve probably substituted smoking with exercise to some degree.

Tell me about that?

Well you get that endorphin rush from exercise if you push yourself hard enough. Obviously I did, I still do a lot of road running and circuit training once or twice a week. And I enjoyed, I actually enjoyed doing it. I enjoy how it makes me feel. As I said you can get a huge endorphin rush from it. And I just like the way it makes me look as well. I’ve never, I didn’t I had no need to lose weight but from doing no exercise at all, to doing a lot, you know, I’m told I’m fairly vain, I enjoy how I look. Which I wouldn’t do if I smoked.
 

Now that Laura’s lifestyle is very healthy, people are sometimes surprised to know that she used to smoke.

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Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
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And in the village would you say you have a more sort of I don’t know healthy image?

Definitely, yes. Well that’s all come from what I quit smoking. I completely had to become healthy to achieve that anyway. Which still continues. You don’t suddenly say, “Right okay, I’ve had enough of quitting smoking, I need to stop being healthy now.” It’s just a life style thing. So like I only have one caffeinated drink a day, and stuff like that, and everyone knows that I go to the gym and you know, I make an effort. So if they were like, “Wow you smoked for ten years, really.” They’d be quite surprised by that. [laughs] It doesn’t fit in with what they know about me.

And how do you think about that, if you see what I mean. You sort of in a way of a small secret identity I guess?

Yes, it’s like a double life in a way. A really stupid double life. I’m always faintly surprised that I smoked in a weird way, because I hated it so much. I dislike it now. I’m not one of those ranting you know, ex smokers, that tells everyone else to stop. You know, it’s up to them, I don’t mind, but if I smell a cigarette I just think eh, you know, know and I don’t why, I just kind of don’t know why I did it for so long. It was very strange. It doesn’t fit in with me at all. It’s like I had a blip of some description for ten years. I don’t know.
Some people had always associated smoking with particular types of identities. Peter associated it with intellectuals, Anna with artistic people and Sue with rebellious people. Stopping smoking could lead to a change of identity that people had to deal with.
 

Sue had been unsure about announcing she had given up smoking and also about losing a rebellious side of herself.

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
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What were some of the other changes that you felt?

I don’t, I think one of the reasons that I kept saying to my husband in particular, “I’m not smoking for now.” Was because I didn’t want to feel pressure from him, because if I said, I’d given up completely and then had a cigarette, I knew that he’d being saying, “Oh you’re started again.” So I felt I wanted to keep that element of control. Again, I think not having given up in the past, I think I said earlier was a little bit about control as well that I was doing something that I wanted to do, so I was keeping control of it. But we don’t talk about it now at all actually, but I didn’t throw out my smoking paraphernalia. My lighter and things for ages because I wanted them there just in case. In fact I kept a couple of cigarettes in a packet. They would have been foul, but for absolutely ages, I had a couple of cigarettes and a lighter in my car, so that I could if I wanted to.

And it, I was quite proud of myself that I didn’t give into that actually. Because I think years ago I would have done. So, I think, people kept saying I’d taste things better and I’d feel healthier and I don’t do either of those things. I can smell things more and that’s not always a good thing [laughs]. We’ve got cats, and sometimes they come in smelling very catty and you think ooh I never would have noticed that in the past. So, yes. But in terms of sort of the, I think, I felt as if I was losing a slightly rebellious side of myself. And maybe I just felt old enough to let that go this time. I don’t know.

Is there anything else you want to add at all?

I don’t think so. I suppose I’m one of those awful people now that are saying, the sort of people I hated when I was smoking, when they said, it’s really easy to give up. But I, was surprised, I genuinely was surprised at how I didn’t find it difficult. And I didn’t have the cravings that I thought I would have, or the sort of desperation if you like to break into my emergency pack [laughs] which got, I changed my car and I threw it out along with the rubbish without even thinking about it. So, yes, I think, you know, the bottom line message is it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
Raf says that at first people laughed when he said he was going to quit smoking, but now people are beginning to accept that he has stopped. For Carol giving up smoking was the best thing she has ever done, and she would be happy if she could motivate just one other person to give up.

(Also see ‘Smoking: memories and experiences’).

Last reviewed August 2018.
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