Age at interview: 43
Brief Outline: Mariam, 36, gave up smoking at the age of 43. Mariam is Asian, lives with her two sons and her mother. She came to England from Kyrgyzstan when she was 30. Mariam started smoking with Russian women at work. She started buying her own and smoked when she was lonely. Later, her son found her cigarettes and persuaded her to give up. She now feels much brighter and healthier.
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Mariam remembers that her father smoked when she was a child, and she would beg him to stop and even write letters to him about it. She then left a more rural area and went to university in Bishkek (in Kyrgyzstan). There she said there was a big difference between ‘city girls’ and ‘village girls’. She thought they city girls were more fashionable and that they smoked. She says that there is a prejudice against girls smoking in Kyrgyzstan. The first time she smoked was in 1996 when she did her MBA and she remembers feeling sick and dizzy.
Then when she was 30 she got divorced and, because of prejudice and discrimination against divorcees in Kyrgyzstan, she ‘ran away’ to the UK. She then started smoking as she worked with some girls from Russia who smoked heavily. Eventually she started buying her own cigarettes. She worked looking after someone who was very demanding, and the only way she could get a break was to have a cigarette. Working three jobs, she never had time for a social life and says that cigarettes became her friends. However, most people didn’t know that she smoked. Although she says that there was always the ‘nagging thought’ that it wasn’t healthy, she carried on. She has two boys and says that she thought she ought to set an example for her children. She believes that her brain tricked her into carrying on despite the fact she would see people with health problems, or was worried she would get yellow teeth and bad breath.
Mariam started ‘interviewing’ people about their experiences of giving up smoking. She also started ‘hating’ smoking as it was depriving her of people’s company as she always had to rush off. She started waking up in the morning always feeling tired. She felt as if she had a relationship with cigarettes but felt they ‘took more than they gave’. One time her son found her cigarettes and asked to talk to her about it. They spoke for two hours about the dangers of smoking. He took a ‘fatherly’ approach to her and was ‘interrogating’ her. She felt as though it should have been the other around. He showed her charts on the Internet about nicotine addiction and threw her cigarettes away. She hasn’t smoked since.
Mariam had attempted stopping smoking before at an Allen Carr clinic but she started again soon afterwards. When she did give up she felt proud of herself as well as brighter and healthier. She said she didn’t have the constant lethargic feeling as if she was ‘carrying something on her back’. She now feels free and remembers a message from Allen Carr’s clinic that there is no such thing as ‘one cigarette’, which was a belief she had fallen for ‘so many times’. She has used herbal cigarettes, listen to CDs, chewed gum, and read books recommended to her by others, but it was primarily the conversation with her son that she thinks helped her stop. She even wrote down on a calendar how much she was spending but said it ‘made [her] feel even worse than she did’. When she recently had a bad car accident the first thing she wanted was a cigarette, but talked to herself in the ambulance, telling herself off for feeling this. She said that she has started eating more healthily all of a sudden. Now she just knows she won’t smoke, whereas before she felt like she was ‘testing’ herself.
Mariam’s son found her cigarettes and lectured her about the dangers of smoking. She hasn’t smoked since.
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And here I am my teenage son saying that’s not healthy for you. You know, that’s the rubbish you put down in you. And he went to the website, showed some kind of charts apparently, nicotine is more addictive than alcohol and cocaine and all that. And then how it affects your brain. How it… and he was telling me all this and he was really angry with me. And that was it [laughs].
So that was the motivating factor?
Yes, that wasn’t long after that he throw away my pack of cigarettes so I didn’t smoke since.
Mariam went to an Allen Carr clinic and thought that the woman running it wasn’t paying much attention. She stopped for two months but then started again.
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Yes, I went to clinic and I stopped for two months. I think. Two months.
And how many times did you go, and what was it like?
It was all right, but I think you must never leave there with doubt. So I’ve left with some doubts. I think you have to trust. He is very good. You know, he’s great. He helped millions of people, but then I think it depends with whoever you’re talking to they’re, they were sitting in a group and the woman was explaining you feel like, she’s not really paying much attention. She was rushing off. She’d got other things to do. You feel like she really doesn’t care. She’s here for money. It’s not going to work. You’ll have all this kind of doubt. But I, I realise that moment I have something to do. Like for example, I was starting a new job, I had interviews. I had to stop for two months. So I was just using that going there and stop for two months. You see you go there and you pick up tips and you just, they give you the hypnosis and you come out, so you don’t smoke, and I didn’t. It does help for so many people, you know, the millions of people stopped. But I think you have to understand everything they’re saying, you know, have to ask questions, but may be English is not my language, maybe I didn’t understand something or I missed something. Well may be they really did plant seeds and then eventually I did it myself.a
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As a result of giving up smoking, Mariam felt ‘free’, brighter, healthier and less tired.
So you definitely notice the difference in the tiredness?
Yes, definitely, definitely and then either you get progressive, after months of “wow, months I’m all right yes”. And you feel it physically. You feel it different, you can feel more energy. That’s the first thing for me. I have more energy to do things. And mentally yes. Mentally I feel all right, and it’s only a few times when this thing happen. The thought because it was habit, yes, the thought comes like, oh I want to have a cigarette, and I say, “All right.” But you’re not going to have it.
After a difficult day at work, Mariam’s colleague, who was upset, encouraged her to have a cigarette. She started smoking again.
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I can take it out.
But I thought to myself there always will be [name] wherever I go. If I stop smoking there always will be [name]. Because I realised even when I was in Allen Carr’s clinic, it’s a human nature when you escape the trap, people who are there, they don’t want you to escape. They don’t do it on purpose but subconsciously they’re giving you a cigarette, they want you to stay trapped as they are. And then they will give you a cigarette. So there will always will be someone saying, “Oh come on, have a cigarette.” And you have to be strong enough to resist them, and it’s no point blaming here. So I am using it as an excuse. I have to do it. So I’m doing it to myself.
Mariam quickly felt more dependent on smoking than she wanted to be and remembers how she first smoked to “deal with everything”.
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I think you get addicted when you finish that cigarette. You think, you know, when you bought that first pack, you’d never think that I’m going to buy second pack. And before you know, you’re already doing it, already it’s taken control over you. Because in the beginning you say, “I’ll never do this. I’ll never this.” And you’ve bought it and then something like this moving, something like this happen, and that’s it, you just looking for cigarette. Oh my God, I’m running out, especially if you’re running. Oh my God, I’m running out of cigarette, I can’t. You know, you’re running out to make sure you’ve got cigarettes. And before you know, you’re already like full time smoker. You, and you’re happy with it. You’re happy with it to just carry on and then, and when you’re unhappy, you just think, oh my God thank God I smoke. How would I deal with everything? Thank God I’ve got this cigarette and thank God I’ve learned it. How would I otherwise deal with other things, and you just, cigarette become your friend.
Mariam found herself cutting conversations short, and even avoided spending time with her children, because she wanted to smoke.
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I know one of them, one of them knows. So I send them, “Wait until they go to bed. I can sneak out of there.” If I’m sitting there smoking I feel dreadful. I feel like a hypocrite, a liar, a cheater, and all the things like. And now they just, I send them back because they’re not even asleep, and I, in your head you believe it, and then in one moment, you can see the picture clear. No that’s not true, you’re lying to yourself. You didn’t, yes I am tired. I want to sleep, but that’s not the reason... you’re lying to yourself. You want to have a cigarette.
Mariam felt lucky to be in the UK and able to smoke in public. She grew up in Kyrgyzstan where a woman would have had to be ‘brave’ to smoke.
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And always at the back of my mind I knew that smoking was still bad for your health. So I was, I thought I was controlling it. Because, if I worked, for example, daytime I never smoked till I finished job. Till I pack up work. I smoke after 5 only. Or if it gets during the day… Some people at work didn’t even know that I smoked. Most people, even my children, most people didn’t really know that smoked, because I didn’t smoke that many. If I was doing nightshift then I could smoke 20 in one night. But daytime of course I was dealing with people and trying not to smoke too many. That was at the beginning but in the, in the end you just, it gets more and more and more, and then after that you don’t really care. You just smoke as many as you want [laughs]. Yes.