Age at interview: 32
Brief Outline: Laura, 32, gave up smoking at the age of 24. She is White British, a full-time mum, is married and lives with her husband and two young daughters. Laura started smoking when she was at school because of peer pressure. She was smoking more and more, and later she stopped as part of a ‘health kick’. She finds she is only rarely tempted to have a cigarette now and is glad she has given up.

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When Laura was a child she hated smoking, and her parents even said that she used to waft her hands around when people smoked. Then she changed schools and didn’t have a network of friends. She thinks that it was because of peer pressure that she started smoking. Eventually she just thought ‘do you know, it doesn’t matter, who cares, I’m never going to die, it’s never going to be a problem’. For a while she smoked only at weekends and then realised she was smoking ten cigarettes a day. When she left school she lived with people who smoked. She says that to have a cigarette was an ‘automatic reaction’ when she was stressed and it always calmed her down. When she bought a house, and friends moved in, she says ‘everyone came round, had parties, got drunk, smoked, it was just constant, all the time’.

Laura’s friends were always trying to give up smoking and having failed attempts. She never tried to stop, but when she decided to, she did so quietly. She didn’t say ‘I’m going to quit smoking’, she just said that she didn’t want to smoke anymore. This was a week after she had split with her partner. She joined the gym to ‘get this boy out of her head’. She didn’t want to go down the pub - where he might be - and didn’t want to hang around her other friends who were mainly in relationships, so she went down the gym every day to give her ‘another thing’. She says that her ex was always trying to quit, and she did it easily, so it was a ‘finger up to him’. She says that this health kick ‘wasn’t really about being healthy, it was just a good side-effect of it’. Laura actually gave up drinking for a while as ‘back then’ people were smoking in the pub, and the temptation to smoke would be there. One of her friends even tried to tempt her to smoke again.

About a year after having stopped smoking, Laura went to a ‘works do’ with a new partner. She was careful not to drink too much, but found that another woman was dancing with her new partner, so she went into another room to smoke a cigarette. Her new partner immediately came to find her and found that she was about to smoke. He was shocked, saying that he couldn’t go out with anyone who smoked. She is now married to him so smoking is now ‘not an option’. She says that she is so glad that she gave up smoking before she had children. Laura finds that the only temptations since she gave up are when she has been on hen weekends where everyone is drinking and smoking. Laura did get bronchitis about three weeks after giving up and the doctor said it was ‘as a result of giving up smoking’.

Laura celebrated giving up by having her teeth whitened. She says that now in the village where she lives nobody knows that she used to smoke. She says that when she was a smoker she didn’t keep it a secret as such, but she was aware that it ‘looked bad’ and added, ‘So from the point of view of work I wanted to be ambitious, career driven and all of that and being a smoker doesn’t equal that same thing, I don’t think, and that’s not my image at work’. She also never used to smoke before going to the doctor. She is glad that she gave up before she was pregnant, as she doesn’t want her children to smoke, and thinks she has ‘more of a leg to stand on’. She sees young girls smoke now and thinks that they look ‘less beautiful’ when they smoke and that it looks bad. She says that people have to give up because they don’t want to smoke anymore, rather than because they want to save money. She says that you have to make ‘big changes in your life’ as when you give up you realise smoking has become such a routine thing. She didn’t tell anyone she was giving up so there was no pressure. It ‘wouldn’t have crossed her mind’ to talk about it with a doctor.

Laura wanted to fit in with new school friends so gave in to peer pressure to smoke at a party.

I remember so clearly one day when we were all talking about the party we were going to on the Friday night in one of the villages and the five of them were just all saying to me, “Come on you’re going to smoke aren’t you? You’ve got to it’ll be brilliant.” And really going on and on and on and it reaches a point where I went, “Yes, all right then.” Partly to shut them up, not really because I thought I’d do. But also because I was thinking it doesn’t matter any way if I do. Nothing’ll happen. I’m not going to suddenly be addicted for ever or anything like that. So… yes, a lot of pressure [laughs].

And so was it at that party that you smoked?

Yes. Yes. This isn’t really connected to smoking at all, but that first cigarette I was given wasn’t a cigarette it was marijuana which I didn’t know at the time. I got told later. I wasn’t happy about that [laughs]. I thought that was a bit naughty. But yes, that was, that just sort of, it became a natural and normal thing to do. It wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t think I’d get addicted. I didn’t really care about any of that.

The main thing was, I still quite new at the school, and I was fitting in, that was what actually mattered much more than anything else.

So what was the experience like at the party?

It was fine. Yes. I smoked my joint, which I didn’t know was a joint [laughs]. Didn’t cough or anything I’ve always been able to handle, you know, the strong alcohol or the shots, anything, nothing like that makes me cough. So then I got quite a lot of kudos for that. Wow is it your first time? And you didn’t cough and all this sort of thing. Yes, okay. And it was fine. And that was, I was just cool then, obviously, because I smoked. That was it.

People who know Laura now have no idea that she used to smoke. She thinks they’d be shocked to learn she is an ex-smoker.

No one here in this village knows that I used to smoke. I would never, I don’t imagine I would meet a new person and reveal unless they somehow got round to the conversation. When I was a smoker I didn’t keep it a secret per se but I’m aware that it looks bad and it’s not exactly, it doesn’t show ambition or, do you know what I mean. It’s not, it’s not a good thing to be a smoker. So from the point of view of work I wanted to be ambitious, career driven and all of that and being a smoker doesn’t equal that same thing I don’t think, and that’s not my image at work. That’s not what I wanted to portray and it certainly isn’t now, in the terms of I’ve got two small children, we try and grow our veg and be healthy and all that sort of thing. I think if anyone in the village knew. I wouldn’t mind if they found out. It’s not top secret, but I don’t tell them. I think they’d be gob smacked. They’d be really shocked. It doesn’t seem like me. Even when I was younger, I remember occasionally I’d be talking to someone that I’d just met and get a cigarette out, and they’d be like, “Oh my God, do you smoke?” I don’t know why. I just didn’t seem to come across as a smoker. I don’t know why [laughs].

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.

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.

When Laura was at school, she had two part-time jobs and this helped her to afford to smoke 20 cigarettes a day.

I was smoking every day. There was quite a lot of down time at school, well there probably wasn’t, but I had a lot of down time at school. I wasn’t a skiver but perhaps I wasn’t in all the lessons. I’m not too sure. But yes, there was a place where you would walk to that was in the village where the school was and everyone would congregate there.

So yes, it was, and I had a job then as well so I could afford to smoke. It wasn’t an issue. I’d got two jobs part time. So, that was probably the main thing, having the cash to spend on it. That helps [laughs].

And was it something you sort of did very consciously, you know, as you sort of smoked more and more, were you noticing that or… how would you describe it?

I didn’t. No, it wasn’t deliberate and I didn’t really notice it until I was buying a ten packet a day, which was my normal for quite a long time. I can’t remember when that happened, but I can remember then having, for a while to go and…. I’d buy ten, they’d go, then buy another ten and then thinking it would be easier to buy twenty and when I realised that, I thought, oh my God, I’m smoking twenty a day. That’s a lot. But it didn’t stop me.

And I got, because I was a poor student at the end of the day. I was still at school full time, but I did have these two jobs. And once I got a car my car was always full of cigarette packets and if I ever ran out of cigarettes I could rummage around opening them all and I’d always find some. So I wasn’t that careful about finishing the packets either. I just. And I was go to person if anyone wanted cigarettes and I had them. So yes. I don’t know. It’s just the money again I guess [laughs].

Laura stopped drinking red wine at the same time she quit smoking, and used the money she had saved to pay for a gym membership and to get her teeth whitened.

When I quit smoking and drinking red wine and coffee and all the other bad things, and I’d split up with my boyfriend and I was going to the gym and life was great and I just thought I was saving so much money and I could go to the gym and I can buy the best membership I want and I can afford it because I don’t smoke, what else can I do. And I thought, yes, I’m going to get my teeth sorted out because they were a horrible colour from all of that terrible stuff I was drinking and smoking and I spent about £300 getting them whitened at the dentist. And it was brilliant. It was such a… He told me the price and I thought what? And then I thought I’d spend much more than that on cigarettes I can do that. That’s fine. And I got it done and it’s lasting through and that was a really nice permanent physical thing to do to myself to say I’m not going to smoke any because I’ve just spent £300 getting my teeth cleaned. I’m not, I’m not going to ruin that with a cigarette. That was quite a good final seal the deal kind of thing for me. I liked it.

Laura didn’t use patches or gum to help her quit and told no one she was giving up. She just firmly decided to give up.

Yes, don’t just do it, because you want to save money or you know, you’ve got to give up because you don’t want to smoke any more. That can be really, that’s in my experience what will work. The other stuff doesn’t work. And I also think you need to make big changes in your life to make it happen, because it is such a routine thing smoking. You reach for them automatically on every single tick that happens on that day where you would normally have had a cigarette so if you can change that routine and make your life a bit different, so that you’re not reaching for the cigarette automatically I think that’s the one of the easiest ways to help yourself getting over it.

Because I didn’t do patches or chewing gum or anything like that. I felt that was just more chemicals at the end of the day and the point was to stop that whole chemical thing so the routine is actually for me what made me smoke more than anything. Because I’d reach for a cigarette in the morning on the way to work, because that’s when I’ve had a cigarette, in the morning on the way to work. Not because I was thinking oh I’m gasping for a cigarette, so yes, you’ve got to change, change what you’re doing.

And sort of, I know you were saying that you, you gave up, and in that sense didn’t, you didn’t even tell anybody or anything like that?

Not really. It wasn’t a big deal thing. People, no I didn’t walk around going I’ve given up smoking. I didn’t do any of that. No symbolic thing, thing with people watching. It was just literally a case of, “Aren’t you smoking Laura?” “No I’ve stopped.” “All right. Okay.” And I think that helped. Because then there was no pressure. There was no, because I didn’t say, “Oh I stopped yesterday.” And so they went, “Oh not long then.” Or anything like that. It was just so not a big deal. I didn’t get harassed or had to talk about it with anyone, because they didn’t know I’d stopped and because I was so casual about it. I supposed everyone assumed oh she did it a while ago or something. I’m not sure but that was quite a good way of doing it as well.

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

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.

Laura replied honestly to her GPs questions about smoking but she avoided having a cigarette before visiting the practice for her regular blood pressure measurements.

Did you ever talk about smoking when you did smoke, to your doctor?

No only in the sense that they ask you don’t they before they prescribe or do anything, they said, “Do you smoke.” And I was always honest, I said, “Yes.” My blood pressure was always exactly the same as it is right now as well. It didn’t seem to have an effect on me particularly, which my doctor would tell me off about and say, “You shouldn’t smoke.” And I’d say, “Well my blood pressure’s fine.” He said, “I know, but that’s no reason to carry on.” But I must I used to, if I was going to the doctors I didn’t smoke until after I left [laughs]. And that was a conscious thing [laughs]. I don’t know. I didn’t want to smell of it. And yes, it probably would have changed my blood pressure if I’d have smoked as I was pulling into the car park.
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