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Giving up smoking

First thinking about quitting

People usually had multiple motivations and reasons for thinking about quitting, and their expectations differed on what it would be like and how easy it would be. Sometimes they had heard about other people’s experiences. Some people said they had always wanted to stop, others had vaguely thoughts that they would give up in the future if they became ‘addicted’ or got any health problems.

Lisa, and others, felt that giving up smoking was something they “should” do, but it seemed too difficult. Anna’s cousin had smoked heavily, and had given up, and this encouraged her to think that she might be able to do it too.

People’s experiences of giving up vary but no one can know whether he or she will find it easy to stop.
 

Sue advises others to “give it a go”. She says that trying to give up is hard, it’s easy once you’ve done it.

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Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
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Give it a go, don’t be scared of trying about it, and try different methods. And, if you get a chance to do something, like if I could go back and do it early, but I would certainly not be scared of planning to go to a clinic or something, because the money isn’t an issue, but you do save it anyway. But, I think it would be nice if there was more chance for people to know the different things they can do. So yes, I would say, give it a go, don’t give up giving up, because it’s easy. It’s hard for a long while, but when you do it, it is easy to do it once you’ve done it, and you know, the actual point all of a sudden you do go why did I do that? And yes, keep it going. Don’t give up giving up [laughs]. That’s a silly thing to say but… And think about other people.
Some people had a ‘nagging thought’ that “everyone knows that you shouldn’t smoke”, and knew that they would have to stop at some point. Reaching a new stage of life often encouraged people to try to stop, for example when starting a family, turning 40, or beginning to think about health in retirement. Keith had just wanted a ‘new start’ after college and giving up smoking might be part of that. Sue felt ‘lucky’ to go off the taste of cigarettes when she became pregnant, a time when women often feel highly motivated to stop.

While first attempts sometimes succeed dramatically, many people admitted that their initial attempt had been ‘half-hearted’, perhaps because they weren’t ready or very convinced about wanting to stop. The role of non-smoking friends and family could be difficult: if their encouragement felt like nagging it could be unhelpful and even lead to people smoking in secret. But a new relationship with a non-smoking girlfriend or boyfriend really motivated some people to quit.
 

When Haseen first had a partner, he began to feel that the risks he was taking would also affect her.

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Age at interview: 46
Sex: Male
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I came to Canada in 97, 98, 99 I met [name] and from that time onwards, the moment I started with … she hated smoking. She doesn’t like smoke. So all things are changing. Actually she had made a big contribution towards me getting off cigarettes, yes. Till then I used to smoke regularly close to a pack a day.

So you say everything started changing.

Yes.

What was happening?

Interesting. I think it was very psychological thing. Then you started to feel, you know, you are not alone. That somebody else also really cares for you. Who generally tells you better give up all this nonsense. Then you start to think ah may be you know, what she’s saying is right. It’s not just bad for me. Then you have somebody else to, not to take care of, but you care for also. Like you consider them also. So what you’re doing to yourself inadvertently will affect the other person also. So that consciously slowly crept into my mind and said, “Okay somebody else also cares for me, so … maybe I should give up this nonsense.”

But even then I smoked. The number of cigarettes really came down from close to 16, 17 cigarettes a day. I would say it came down to like four or five cigarettes a day.

No it’s so interesting that when I actually start thinking about, the reason why I stopped or rather started thinking about it. Yes, it was then the time when I realised that somebody else also in your life and who you want to live for. It’s not that you smoke because I want to die kind of thing. It’s not just that, but you really didn’t care for your body and your very oblivious about those things. Like what the cigarette is doing to you, those kind of things. But then somebody else comes and tells you okay. Sometimes you cough or something, and is it because I’m coughing so then you realise, another person does care. May be I should be go back and think about it. So that’s how I started bringing it down. She used to nag me all the time. I thought alright I might as well give it up. I couldn’t stand her nagging [laughs] oh dear me.
 

Laura’s friends had ‘group’ attempts at quitting, and nagged her to join them. She refused but now they all still smoke and she doesn’t.

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Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
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And so when would it have been that you started even thinking about giving up smoking?

I didn’t, I used to, all my friends, a big group of us, every single one of them smoked, and everyone would always have goes at stopping. They’d either all do it as a big group kind of, “Oh yes, we can do it tomorrow. We’ll never smoke again yeah.” And they ceremoniously throw all the fags in the bin and do all of that sort of thing. And I never ever joined in. I like smoking and I don’t want to stop. I’m not stopping and it really annoyed them that people would have a go at me. If someone had stopped for three months then they’d all try and do an intervention with me. Come on, we’ve done it, you can do it. Do you know what I mean, really nag me, and I didn’t want to stop. I don’t want to stop. Leave me alone. I’m not going to stop. Back off and you know, what, they all still smoke. They all stop every now and again and they all start again. They’ve never quite and I’ve quit [laughs].

So how did you feel when they were sort of, I guess nagging you a bit like that?

Sometimes it was annoying, but mostly I just felt, I don’t know, I’m kind of in control of myself anyway. Apart from the peer pressure that I gave into which is probably why I find it so surprising. So I just, I kind of like teased them about it, and led them on a bit. It never really bothered me that much. If they were really going on and I was trying to watch a film or something then yes, that’s annoying, but I just, I would just be like, no I don’t want to. Just because you think you’ve got to do that. You’ll be smoking again soon and things like that. And the other thing was if they caved in and came to me going oh give us a cigarette. I’d say, “No, you’ve quit. “ And I’d really, I wouldn’t give them a cigarette at all. [Laughs] And that was my little way of getting them back. “No you’ve quit, I’m not giving you one of my cigarettes.” [Laughs]. And then I’d start smoking. So yes, it all came round.
Wanting to stop smoking

Looking back, people who had given up recalled many of the unpleasant aspects of smoking. Something that used to be fun became less and less fun. Roger began to notice unpleasant physical effects of smoking such as the smell that ‘lingers in your clothes, in your hair, in your mouth’. Rukmini noticed the smell that was on her clothes and in her hair the night after smoking too many, but would go out and do the same again soon after.
 

Cassie had always wanted to quit, even when she first started. She saw her brother try to give up several times but stopping was harder than she thought.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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I’ve always wanted to give up smoking. Always. Since I, well possibly as soon as I started, because I knew, you know, it wasn’t the right thing to do. It got a hold of me, and when I was 18, I just decided enough was enough. I’d seen my brother quit successfully. Although he went back to it now. He’s quit many times and after six months gone back. But I saw him quit and I decided, you know, enough is enough. I, I don’t want to be smoking for the whole of my life, I really don’t. Because as much as I enjoy it, it’s not a nice habit, you know, you smell and it turns some people’s teeth yellow. It’s not very social any more, and slowly society is turning against it. So I don’t want to be smoking forever. And I’ve always had, thought, it’s just about being strong enough to beat it, and I’ve never wanted it enough to, to fully beat it. 

Back then I just thought I’d give it a try, because as long as I tried, then even if I fail, it doesn’t matter if I’ve tried. And I thought if I could just get through and quit the three day hump kind of thing, if I could just get through that, I thought then following if I had this pre conception that you know, the three day hump is all you’ve got to get over and then it’s plain sailing. But it really wasn’t. So I tried. But it was harder than I thought. So I just, you know, the easy option was to go back. So that’s what I did.

 

When Angela stayed with her brother, she noticed that because he and his girlfriend were non-smokers their house smelled nice; this was one of the reasons she resolved to stop smoking.

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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But I don’t think I’ve ever been ill with the smoking and that, so it were just a choice, more than anything, because my teeth were getting terrible, my fingers were getting brown and… I lived, before I lived here, I lived with my brother for a while, because of some upset that I’d had. So I lived with my brother and his girlfriend and they don’t smoke. So I went outside for a fag, but the house, you know, they didn’t have to have spray things, because it just smelt nice. And when I came back in from having a fag, because nothing smelled apart, you know, the cooking things and that, I could smell my own, which you can’t really smell yourself, and I could smell it because like covered, I brought, and they, they never said anything. But I could smell it myself and it was horrible. So that did me a world of good, just living with them for a bit. I don’t if that makes any difference to anybody but [laughs].

You’re right, it’s how you …

Yes, and it’s like they don’t smell. And it’s like... So I’d have a dressing gown, so that I’d get up in morning and my dressing gown smelt, you know, and theirs didn’t, and it was like oh I want to be like them [laughs]. So, but there’s all kind of different things.

What were the other sort of things?

I don’t know. I mean money. Like I say. Well it were becoming an issue because I’d got to cut my belt whatever you say…

Cut right back?

Because I knew I’d got this place. But... and it weren’t so much a health thing. It were just a, I don’t want to do it anymore. Do you know, I just don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to, because you get, it’s like you were… if I walked out of house and I didn’t have my cigarettes it would be a panic thing, oh I haven’t got any cigarettes and you’ve got to go to a shop and you’ve got to get this and it a panic and you’re dependent on that. And your life, your day cannot go without you’ve got your cigs and lighter. And you go into a panic. I didn’t want to do that anymore [laughs].

Yes. Yes. I just didn’t want to. I mean my daughter she doesn’t smoke and I just didn’t want it, I didn’t want to smell and... that’s it [laughs]. That’s really basically it, it weren’t so much a, it should have been a health thing, but, and when you’re smoking that many there’s only a few of the cigarettes that you enjoy. The rest you just smoke and you just think oh God. There is only a few that you actually enjoy.
People who felt they were addicted sooner or later became aware that they smoked because they felt they had to and not because they enjoyed it. Andy talked about having to go out in the freezing rain to have a cigarette and getting no pleasure from it, and Peter talked about being bored with the ‘habit’ and having ‘no enjoyment left’.
 

Sue didn’t enjoy smoking, but did it just because she had an urge to smoke. She doesn’t believe people who say they carry on smoking because they like it.

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Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
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I suppose you don’t really know what the buzz really is by that stage. You know, it’s not exciting to smoke any more. You don’t know why you’re doing it. It’s just because you get an urge to do it, because you know whatever receptors in our brain have been tweaked and stopped tweaking and you just want to, so I don’t know any more. I think that was just the stage where you go out have a drink, have a cigarette and the two go together. And you think you’re doing it, because it’s a habit, but you’re not you’re doing it because you have to do it. Because you wouldn’t enjoy it because you’re addicted to it. So, and I think a lot of the time as well you smoke and you don’t want to, you actually get to the stage where you will smoke and you’re thinking why am I doing this? This is going to be the last one, and then five minutes later you find that you’ve lit another one. Or, you know, or somebody’s give you, offered you one and you’ve just taken it without thinking about it. So it isn’t much fun. It gets to the stage where it isn’t much fun for anybody, even the people who say oh I’m not packing up because I like it. I’m sure that’s not true, I’m sure they also get to the stage where they wish they could pack up, or wish they hadn’t started would probably be more… That would be easy.
 

Smoking had become more difficult when travelling or working and John became very conscious of the unpleasant smell that hung around after he smoked.

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Male
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I mean the first time I found that I couldn’t do something like travel, was when I went to Scotland and Scot Rail was non-smoking anywhere and I had a three hour train journey from Glasgow to Oban and it stopped once, possibly for Fort William or somewhere, and all the smokers got off and pumped themselves full of nicotine to cope with the next hour and a half. And even then I was started to think this is a bit daft. Because you know, you’ve managed an hour and a half, you can manage another hour and a half. But you just felt it was you, you were a smoker, therefore that’s what you had to do. The whys didn’t make much sense.

And then of course you hit Scotland and all the bars in Scotland they’re all smoking like mad there. And yes, car journeys. I did a lot of driving myself, so I was the only one in the car, so it didn’t really matter. But sometimes a friend might give you a lift and say do you mind not smoking, or so much, or [laughs] have all the windows open. And you think yes, this is getting a bit awkward. So it did impact on day-to-day life.

Or if you invite someone back to your flat or house and think, I’m going to have to clean up before, and you know, I’ll have to really spring clean the place because it stinks of fags and so yes, it impacted in all sorts of way. I had to have a fresh shirt to work every day, because the other one stank and so I’d always got stuff in the wash. It just become more and more time consuming. Because I had an office job and some people did go to the smoke room, there was always a smoke room somewhere, and then you come back and sit down, and everyone around you would complain. Yes, it becomes more difficult.

So I like the shift now, but I wouldn’t want to persecute, persecute smokers at all. I think it would be most unfair. But those awkwardness’s did help. It was another part of making it more and more difficult. So I’d go outside in the cold and rain and I’d just give it a rest. So there are it is part of that building of the pressure towards me thinking really it’s just not worth it. What am I getting out of it. Because people have to question themselves. If someone tells you you’ve got to give up. Oh who are you to tell me. It’s really got to come from within, and when people get to the point where they start saying, I want to give up, but I don’t know how, right well that’s fine, you’ve got something you can work with, something you can start looking at.
Money played a role in some people’s decisions to quit. Khan remembers calculating in 2011 that he spent around £2000 on cigarettes in a year. When Caroline first started to think about giving up, it was for financial rather than health reasons. Others, however, said that they could always find money for cigarettes.
 
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Blodwen felt physically fit when she was a smoker but the cost motivated her to stop. She asked herself why she smoked and realised she had no need to.[TEXT ONLY]

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Age at interview: 55
Sex: Female
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Why do you think you were ready at that time? Why did you want to give up then?

Why did I want to give up? Again, going back to the, you know, the cost, and it’s a terrible thing to say really, because you know I preach at work, it’s although health and stuff like that. But it is. Because I didn’t sort of cough, and I didn’t get out of breath. I didn’t physically feel you know. Because I used to go running and stuff and I used to have a fag at the end of it, you know, which is ridiculous. Really when you think about it. So yes. I don’t think…I don’t think that health came into it as much as, which is, which is a bit silly isn’t it? But personally I don’t think it did. Which is should have done, but, but there we go isn’t it?

So would you say it was more of a sort of financial situation or …?

Yes, yes, and like I say I was ready to. I was questioning well why, why am I smoking? Why am I doing this isn’t it? You know, there’s no need for it. There’s no need, you know. I don’t need that little. It’s almost like a little crutch isn’t it, and you don’t… Yes.
Some people had enjoyed smoking for years before they started to think more seriously about quitting. People who still had positive associations with smoking were unlikely to find it easy to quit until they shifted how they thought about smoking. Abdul, for example, realised he had to “demonise” smoking to make himself ready to eventually give up.

(Also see ‘Life events and their effect on people’s motivation to stop smoking’, ‘The role of other people in the decision to quit’ and ‘Money and smoking’).

For more information on giving up smoking see our resources section.

​Last reviewed August 2018.
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