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Judith

Age at interview: 36
Brief Outline: Judith, 36, gave up smoking when she was 34. Judith is White Scottish, works as a communications manager and lives by herself. She gave up smoking after being diagnosed with emphysema. Judith started smoking at 14-15. She soon started smoking cannabis to cope with her mental health problems. She always thought she had a ‘smoker’s cough’ but was later diagnosed with emphysema. It was incredibly hard for Judith to stop smoking, but she managed it with the support of a smoking cessation group.

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Judith started smoking when she was 14-15 and she finally gave up when she was 34 after many attempts. She was also a heavy cannabis smoker during this time. She says she ‘self-medicated’ for mental health issues during this time. When she was a child, she found a cigarette on the path and tried it in her bathroom and coughed. She says she smoked at school because it was ‘slightly risqué’ and looked cool. She says she felt that she wasn’t quite the ‘same’ as her immediate family, as they were more academic and she was into PE and sports, so smoking became a marker of difference. Eventually she told her parents she smoked, and they felt that it might have stopped her going ‘over the edge’ (with regards to her mental health problems) but now looking back she thinks that it was a ‘false coping mechanism’.

Judith never thought she would be able to give up, and finally began to consider it when she was diagnosed with emphysema when she was 32. Judith says she was actually losing consciousness slightly when coughing and realised there was a problem. The first time she tried to give up she had a major panic attack, and doctors were giving her sedatives to help her stop smoking. Her hospital consultant shocked her by not only telling her that she wouldn’t be able to give up but also that he could ‘essentially book her a bed in the ward for three years’ time’. Judith said she was looking to others to make her stop, and wanted other people to ‘sort her out’. She started looking at rehab clinics for drugs because for Judith smoking was ‘as devastating as a heroin addiction’: she wanted to stop it ‘but just didn’t know how she was going to stop’. Then, 18 months later, she got to the point where she could think about actually doing it. She stopped cannabis with the help of ‘Crew’, although now she says she doesn’t know how. This success gave her the ‘confidence’ and ‘self-belief’ to start thinking about stopping smoking. She didn’t tell anybody about it as she didn’t want to ‘jinx’ it. She went ‘covertly’ to a smoking cessation group, and although she had gone in the past she felt she was in the right ‘head space’ for it now. She says that she started one-to-one support as she didn’t want the ‘pressure of groups’. She realised a few facts about nicotine addiction that helped her. She set herself a date of 16th February 2010 with the help of the smoking cessation worker. She says it was really helpful that public places were non-smoking. Now looking back she thinks that so much of it is habit rather than addiction. She says she is now ‘so chilled out’ because she doesn’t have to plan her cigarettes. Once she had got over the first day or two she felt a huge sense of achievement. She had lots of products from the smoking cessation group: she used a cut piece of straw to suck through, to just slow her breathing down. She didn’t use the patches much as she didn’t want ‘another psychological thing’ to get over. She now works as an ‘ambassador’ for the smoking cessation group, and has just done some training for ASH Scotland. She says that the group was ‘there’ when she needed it. This in itself is ‘beyond’ what she thought she would ‘do in her life’. She is really proud of herself even though she is a big advocate of smokers’ rights and doesn’t think it’s fair to demonize what they are doing.

Judith is now going to the gym, and has increased her lung function slightly. She has stopped her condition getting worse and is managing it. She now takes more pride in her appearance, in her house and ‘so many different things’. She has had mixed interactions with health professionals since she gave up, and feels that many people put everything down to smoking. She thought that one doctor didn’t give her any credit for giving up smoking. Judith feels that when she was suffering with mental health problems she ‘wasn’t ready to do anything like stopping smoking’. She went to anxiety management courses and felt she needed this ‘almost terminal’ diagnosis to contemplate giving up smoking. She talks about smoking Silk Cut as she thought they were ‘better’. She tried smoking roll ups as they were ‘more hassle’ and therefore she would give up more easily. Now Judith says she has better colour, no cough, no anxiety, and her teeth have also improved, as have her taste buds. Immediately after stopping she felt worse than before, but now she feels great. She now judges that she is listened to more seriously as a non-smoker when she goes for treatment to hospital. She feels that giving up both cannabis and cigarettes at once is a ‘double hurdle’ but does think it’s a personal thing. Now she feels very happy and is really pleased with the place she has got to with her physical and her mental health.
 

Judith thought she had a ‘smoker’s cough’ but was diagnosed with asthma and emphysema at the age of 32.

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I was known to everyone as Judith the Chimney. I never ever thought I would be able to give up. I finally was able to think about when unfortunately I was diagnosed with emphysema and I was diagnosed when I was about 32 after a good few years of coughing to the point of unconsciousness. And for years it was put down to smokers cough, which we all know there, there is no such thing. It’s a problem if you have a cough for more than three weeks, there’s a problem. I think that old adage still goes on with a certain generation, that it was just a smoker’s cough. I eventually went to the doctor and told him I was losing consciousness that I was hitting my head off the floor when I did, and various things like that. He then sent me for tests at the Respiratory Clinic and they came back with the fact that I had a mixture between asthma and emphysema. He also gave me an idea of how much lung function I had left, which was 55% at that point 55-60% at that point. Which was quite shocking.

And that really upset me, because there was nothing I could do about that. I mean obviously I could have given up smoking, but that was a huge thing that I was struggling to do. I just couldn’t even entertain it. I had tried to give up smoking in the past and it really compromised my mental health.
 

At first Judith wanted products to help her quit, but then decided she didn’t want to have to quit nicotine after she had given up smoking.

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So I’d got over the first day or two. Going back though to the smoking cessation I had been given. I had said that I wanted products. I want nicotine replacement. So I’d got patches and I got an inhalator as well. Which has a sort of cartridge, which gives you nicotine if you suck on it. Just like a cigarette essentially.

But I was also, at the smoking cessation they also gave me little bits of cut straw, just about that size and that was a really interesting thing as well, the fact that when you sucked on the straw, it was essentially, it wasn’t like a cigarette, but it slowed your breathing down, and it just reminded you of what it was like when you smoked, to just take that long breath and so that was really, really interesting for me, is the fact that I could have it in my hand, and I could drive with it, in my, you know, between my fingers and suck on it, and realise that it was slowing my breathing down, and that in itself relaxes of course, just taking note of, just breathing you know, but deeper and a bit slower.

So when I stopped for the two days I hadn’t touched the inhalator. I put the patch on and but I’d got through those two days. And then I thought nicotine stays in my system for 24 hours, it was so psychological for me, why was I still feeding myself with the nicotine? I know it’s so different for everybody, but for me, I just thought, why am I doing this. I didn’t want to get to the end of twelve weeks and have another psychological thing where I was thinking “Right I’ve only achieved this because I’ve had a patch on and then I’m going to take a patch off, I know it goes down in strength but I’m still not going to have anything”. And that initial major confidence and ability to stop would have been 12 weeks prior to that. So was I going to get into a position where that in itself could just start me smoking again? So I made an informed decision that I was just going to take it off and I never looked back.
 
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Judith went to a smoking cessation group and found others there understood what she was going through. [TEXT ONLY]

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I think it was there when I needed it.  It was there when I wanted to engage with it, as opposed to being in my face. When I was ready… There’s a saying that someone told me, and it was, if... when you’re ready to become the pupil, the teacher will appear. And that was true. So the smoking cessation class allowed me to do that, to go to them. It was non-judgemental, that was a big thing.  It also had the flexibility of various groups at various locations, as well as that it also you were able to do a one to one session as well as, or a group session.

I think the one-to-one session’s great. But I think ultimately you do need to eventually go into the group session for it to be completely a rounded experience and a helpful experience. Everybody is there with the same goal, but with different journeys. You can always get somebody who has felt one of your symptoms, and potentially you can always help someone else out because of one of your experiences. It’s, I still say to this day, it’s the only place that really understands, because if you are giving up smoking, they are too. If you have given up smoking there’s somebody there that has. And they understand how difficult it has been with the journey that’s led to that. On the outside you have, generally, two main types of people. There’s the non smokers who will never understand what it’s like to have given up smoking. To have achieved that. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done in life. And people, one friend in particular said, “That’s not true, you know, and you managed to do a psychology course when you weren’t very well.” Or whatever. But that just doesn’t even come close to giving up smoking.
 
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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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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.
 

The respiratory doctor told Judith that she would be struggling for breath in three years if she carried on smoking, but that he knew she would not stop. This made her take notice.

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So when I got the diagnosis, the respiratory doctor told me something that no other doctor had said, he said, “You’re not going to give up.” Whereas all the other doctors had been saying, “You need to give up. Here’s why it’s bad for you.” And they also told me that there was so many other things that were happening with me, like skin problems, and various other things that were essentially down to smoking. And I just got bored. I got bored hearing it. You switch off. You think surely everything can’t be down to smoking.

And I know that they generally have a job to do and that they have to tell you to stop smoking and it’s a really difficult one in that respect. But we, as smokers, we don’t listen. It’s like talking to a brick wall as if we haven’t heard it time and time again.

So this respiratory consultant saying, you won’t give up, was like a breath of fresh air. I just thought, you really know. You do know how difficult it is. And the likelihood of me being able to give up. And then he followed it by saying, “You’re going to be in the ward in three years, struggling for breath, and I could essentially book you a bed now. But as I say, I know you won’t give up, so that will be a certainty.”

That was a shock but I still appreciated the fact that he wasn’t trying to make me stop smoking against my, my ability at that point, I went away from that. I was really upset, because essentially what he was saying was, three years from now, you’re going to be struggling for breath, it’s a terminal disease, if I don’t change my lifestyle.

I then, I guess, I was looking to others to make me stop. And it wasn’t me who was giving up. I wanted other people to sort me out. I even started looking at rehab clinics for drugs, because I was so aware that to me, it was as devastating as being a heroin addict. I couldn’t, it was an addiction, it was completely an addiction and I so wanted to stop it, but just didn’t know how, I was going to stop it, because I tried so much and it had just been so draining.
 

Judith was frustrated by a surgeon’s dismissive reaction to the news that she had given up smoking, when it had been very hard for her.

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And there was one incidence when I had given up, and it was one specific doctor that I was seeing for one specific problem, and he, I’d had a couple of operations, and he had said, “This will not stop until you give up smoking.” And after the second operation, it was probably about four or five months when I had given up smoking, I had to go for a review to check whether it had become a problem again. And I was so excited, because I was going to tell him I’d managed to give up. And I was really, really disappointed and upset because I went and I told him, and he said, “Right, okay. You do realise that this can happen in non smokers as well?” And that was really, really kind of crushed me at that moment. I wasn’t going to smoke again. But I thought that was really, that really undermined everything that you’ve said to suddenly turn round and tell me that smokers can get this as well. So, sorry non smokers can get this as well. It just, it really made me aware of how much [exhales] how much they put down to smoking. And how they really don’t give you all the facts and I just, it started to make me think, well how many of the other things that they’ve said is down to smoking, is actually down to smoking? And the medical profession at that point lost a lot of credibility for me. But touch wood, it has never reoccurred, but I feel duped, I did feel duped on that occasion and I also felt that he really just didn’t have a clue how hard it is to give up smoking. And how big an achievement it was when had I had give up smoking, given up smoking. Fair enough, people have bad days, but I would have felt that that might have cheered him up, the fact that somebody had come and actually been able to give up smoking. If that’s what he’s telling people to do, surely a success is worthy of at least a smile and a, really not even a well done, but a recognition of I didn’t expect you to do that, after the fact that I’ve been telling you this for goodness knows how long. So yes. Yes.
 
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Judith thinks that some people who still smoke can try to undermine your quit attempts in subtle and less subtle ways. "It’s important not to be discouraged if you relapse – just try again!”. [TEXT ONLY]

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And then you have the people who are still smokers, who generally, when they are still smokers they are either frustrated that you’ve managed it, because they’re wanting to manage it, and so generally they’re saying, “You know, I hope it lasts, but you know, I know somebody, who, you know, was fine for six months and then all of a sudden they just started smoking again. So you know, you’ve got to, you know, don’t be surprised if you just start again.” You’ve got the others who are, you know, think it’s funny to potentially offer you cigarettes, and you’ve got others who are genuinely wanting you to start again with the cigarettes as well. But it’s all through the fact that they can’t give up smoking, and you do… Of the people who have given up smoking, you get the people who never wanted to give up smoking. Who still to this day say, “I still get cravings every single day. You’ll get that for the rest of your life.” And they’re not helpful people. They been forced into doing it and they will start again because it’s not been their decision.

Everyone’s journey is so different, but the one thing that you’ve got in common is if you want to do it, you will do it no matter what has gone before, and I think it’s dangerous to say that you’ve tried it before and you managed for six months and then you started again, and so not count the six months as being a non smoker, you have to forget about that previous time. You’re a non smoker from the time, the day that you stop, and you should take that, that achievement on board every single day. And yes, when, you know, you know, you might be aware when six months come up, but you’re not living with life exactly the same again. It’s a different time. It’s a different, it’s a different weather outside. It’s a different person whose in your house at that moment. There’s so many different things, that add to it, just be good to yourself with it, definitely.
 
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Judith associated different cigarette brands with different types of people. [TEXT ONLY]

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You were told that Camel cigarettes were made out of camel shit essentially [laughs]. I don’t know where that one came from, so you know, it’s kind of like ugh you’re smoking that, whereas I’m smoking such a nice, cool, you know, formaldehyde and cyanide and yes, but… there was… So I suppose you’d get. It was price brackets as well. You know, if things were cheap I didn’t touch them because they were rough, really rough. Marlboro’s, straight red Marlboro’s I always thought were really rough although they were a better class of roughness obviously. And then there was things like what friends and everything have termed as Lambert and Brutals.

So they were kind of you know, your working class kind of cigarette and then you had, and Super Kings and that kind of thing. And they were for people who really potentially couldn’t afford good quality cigarettes. And I suppose the Regal, the Silk Cut, the Benson & Hedges were sort of middle class. They were quality, you know, cigarette, and then you had the more, the kind of upper class cigarettes which was your menthols and that was for people who really were just playing at it, for the, you know, they weren’t getting a taste of nicotine and things like that. I don’t know this is a personal thing for me.

It’s interesting.

Yes, it’s interesting, it really is interesting actually, looking at it now. I realised though actually towards the end I was smoking roll ups and they were like even, you know, as far as I was concerned years ago, they were like the lowest of the low, you know, they were your stained finger crew, and yes, but it’s just, it was just “not done”. But a cigarette, they keep piling on the money, the tax, it was more cost effective.
 

Judith thinks it’s a fallacy that nicotine is a relaxant. She used to plan carefully when to have her cigarettes but now realises she mainly smoked out of boredom or habit.

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And I didn’t need all those cigarettes. It was, it was because you were given, partly because you were given the time to go and have them, it’s weird, when you actually look at cigarettes and why you’re smoking. There’s so much down to boredom and there’s so much down to habit. And actually very little of it is down to the addiction, because we always make sure we have our cigarette before we get desperate potentially. So we never, I mean obviously there are some instances, like when you’re going on flights and things you do get to the point where you’re craving a cigarette, a natural craving, not that smoking’s ever natural, but that allowing the nicotine to drop so far that you physically need that top up.

But there’s so much in life that we never let that get to the point of, we’re always there worrying about it. It’s a fallacy that it’s a relaxant, because the only reason it relaxes you, is because you’ve got to the point where you’re really needing it, either psychologically or as a chemical reaction. And it’s only through being free of it that I realise I’m so chilled out these days and that was part of my mental health was anxiety and not having to constantly second guess when I was going to get my cigarette. Who I was going to visit, because could I smoke in their house, could I not smoke in their house? Were they four flights up? Was it an intimate dinner part or gathering where it was going to be really obvious if I suddenly got up and walked out to have a cigarette it just, it takes over your life. It used to make me late for things. Because I’d think well I had one five minutes ago, but I could probably just squeeze one in before I leave. And of course I could squeeze one in before I left, time wise I did. I crow bared it in, so that I could have that extra one. But again it didn’t do any more for me, having a second one.
 
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Judith worried about the risks of smoking stronger varieties of cannabis. Quitting cannabis and cigarettes together is a ‘double hurdle’.[TEXT ONLY]

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I think the only thing that I would may be say, is, that for a certain age group it’s cigarette smoking and for a certain age group it’s much more cannabis smoking. And I think to try and give up both at once, because if you’re a cannabis smoker, you’re generally a cigarette smoker as well. If you try and give up both at once it’s a double hurdle. But again, it’s, it’s a very personal thing and some people could do that, some people couldn’t, but I do think there is a sort of age thing where you will have people who have never smoked joints and you will have a younger age bracket where really all you smoke joints, and I don’t know much of that is getting tackled. It never led on to anything else for me, drug wise. Occasionally, I could count on the one hand the amount of times I’ve taken speed and that was really because I’ve never really been a drinker and it was to keep up with people to just go out and be able to stay up at the same kind of... to the same time as them. Not on the same level obviously, because they got wrecked and I was still ch-ching. But yes, I think cannabis is always seen as the start of something worse, and actually cannabis itself is worse. And it’s a real problem, and the amount of people that I’ve seen just in the last week alone, just smoking joints on the street, and as an ex joint smoker, I know exactly what a) it looks like, b) it smells like, and all the rest, and there’s this really blasé attitude about it. It’s almost like, it’s almost like a sort of, what we would think Amsterdam is like, but even they have more control than we do now. You know, they have specific places you can go and smoke it, whereas it just seems to be everything. It really does. And it seems to be the norm. Yes. And it’s so debilitating not just in health, physical health, but the mental health side of things. And manjana that you get from it, you know, the, I can’t do it now, I’ll do it later, and things never get done. That’s the really sad thing. I’ve wasted so much of my life, just not being able to deal with it through just being too stoned generally. Yes.

But it’s got me to where I am now. I wouldn’t regret it. I’m sad it happened, but I had to go through that journey to get out the other side and to get so amazingly happy. Just palpably happy. It’s, I just didn’t ever think I could get to this point in my mental health journey as well as my physical health journey. With the bridges that I’ve kind of come across. And yes, it’s all possible
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