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Peter

Age at interview: 39
Brief Outline: Peter, 39, gave up smoking 16 weeks ago. Peter is Norwegian, works as lecturer and is married. He started smoking when he came to the UK to study. Some years later, Peter gave up after two attempts with the help of a programme from Boots. He has also used a phone app called ‘Since I Quit’ to monitor his progress.

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Peter started smoking in his mid-late 20s and smoked until his first attempt at stopping, which was in his mid thirties. He stopped for two years but then started again, and stopped for the second time in his late 30s. He thinks that he has probably been smoking for about 10-12 years in total. Peter says that he went to a lot of rock festivals in his youth (which he spent in Norway) but that he never smoked. It was only when he was a student in the UK that he tried smoking pot. The first time he started smoking tobacco was when he was doing his PhD. At the time that he was smoking a lot of pot he says he found it ‘difficult to maintain [the necessary] brain activity’ so he just ‘transferred to smoking [tobacco]’. Looking back he doesn’t know whether starting smoking was part of a ‘new life’, a ‘cosmopolitan life’, or ‘something silly like that’. He says that back then there was a more ‘social aspect’ to smoking that he thinks doesn’t really exist anymore. He found that smoking just tobacco was ‘less unhealthy’ than smoking pot, which he says ‘rips into your lungs’ and ‘messes with your head’. When he started smoking for the second time, he started smoking ordinary cigarettes – as opposed to roll ups – and this made it feel as though he wasn’t going back to the ‘old habits’. He now comments this was ‘self-delusion’. He soon found it cheaper to buy rolling tobacco and he thought it was nicer.

Looking back, Peter now thinks he told himself that he was addicted to nicotine, but actually he found smoking itself had lots of positive associations that he isn’t wasn’t rid of. When he was smoking, he says he didn’t feel the need to ‘justify’ smoking, he just ‘did it’. However, smoking was then banned in public places, and he found that fewer and fewer people were smoking, so that the ‘social aspect’ had gone, which left him with just his ‘habit’. He found his lungs got ‘phelgmy’ and that if he was lazy with his ashtrays he was reminded how much he smoked. He talks about the ‘drudgery’ of the addiction and the fact that he just wanted to stop. Peter would sometimes cut down and just have a couple of cigarettes a day, but those cigarettes he says would be ‘brilliant’. He now thinks that cutting down didn’t work and that he was still in the ‘tricks’ and ‘snares’ of the addiction. The most difficult thing he found about giving up was losing the ‘structuring device’ for having a break in his day. The second time he stopped he was aware of this issue so it wasn’t such a ‘big problem’. Experimenting with nicotine patches, he felt he was able to dissociate the mental and the physical need. The first time he stopped, the nicotine replacement gum made him feel nauseous so he just ‘cold turkeyed’ for a week and then was fine. He says that he was completely unaware of how hard it would be to give up smoking. At first he felt that he desperately needed a cigarette. The second time he had nicotine replacement patches as part of a programme of assistance. He feels the physical addiction was really ‘quite tiny’. He thought the rest of his addiction was bound up with the ‘ritual’ of smoking. He bought the ‘Boots’ programme that he describes as the ‘scaffolding’ around which to structure his giving-up attempts. He was told to set targets, a date for finishing and was offered a range of products to assist him. At the chemist, he blew into a spirometer and says that he felt dependant on products and was ‘clinging’ to them.

Peter felt that, because he mainly works from home, he needed another context in which to try and give up, and also ‘someone else to be responsible to’. He was given advice about the way the receptors worked with nicotine in his brain and also how to deal with his irritability. At this time he started training – going to the gym and jogging. He used social networks like Facebook to ‘let the world know’ he was stopping, so he was ‘responsible to someone else’. He said this makes the attempt ‘real’ because otherwise ‘it’s just an idea in your head’. Peter also has an iPhone app called ‘Since I Quit’ that he has used since the first week of quitting. The app plots the time you have stopped smoking and the money you have saved. The second time he attempted to quit he says he was much more conscious of the ‘issues, difficulties and fallbacks’, but also he was conscious that he was going to become 40 and wanted to ‘turn his life around’. He didn’t really connect his starting running with stopping smoking but did find it helpful as he was ‘doing something else instead [of smoking]’. Smoking was one part of ‘shifting [his] perspective overall’ on what he is doing and what he wants to be doing. He got work into perspective, and it is life outside of work that he now finds problematical.

Peter’s grandfather died in his 60s because of a smoking related illness, yet his maternal grandmother ‘smoked like a chimney’ and lived until she was 93. Both his paternal grandparents died of smoking-related illnesses.
 

Peter had been a regular cannabis smoker but started smoking straight tobacco when he started doing a PhD.

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I don’t know, it was an, I was smoking a lot of pot at the time and I was doing a PhD and it was a bit difficult to maintain kind of brain activity I suppose. Sort of, it’s not a very wise thing to be smoking cannabis when you’re also trying to work intellectually. So, so I just transferred it to smoking. And that was how it started.

So, and then it kind of, then you discover the whole world of smoking which doesn’t really exist so much anymore, but there was a whole kind of social aspect to it, meeting people outside having a fag and of course, in those days you would smoke in pubs and in cafes and so there was a whole kind of social ritual to do with smoking that was very pleasing and pleasurable.

What was pleasing about it?

It’s meeting people and sharing smoking. Sharing smoke, fags, sharing a lighter. Yeah.
 

Peter felt that everything about smoking that used to be a ‘positive’ was now a ‘negative’.

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Was I was just really bored with the habit. It was the habit was everything now and there was no enjoyment left. So everything that was everything that was enjoyable when I started out, the social aspect, all of that was going away because smoking was being banned, less and less people were smoking, so you know, the whole sort of social aspect had gone. And then you’re just sort of left with your habit, which can, you know, go on sort of curves [meaning going up and down]. You might be when you’re more stressed you might be smoking more and you know, causing your, you know, lungs to get all sort of phlegmy and you know, if you’re lazy with your ashtrays you get massive piles of cigarettes to remind you, you know, the what you’re doing to your body, but it was mostly just the sort of the drudgery of the addiction that was so tedious and I just wanted to finish it. And so I did.

And what was tedious about it exactly? About the addiction?

It was everything before that was positive was just negative. I can’t quite give a sort of... hm. Well you’re a slave to it. It’s not your choice any more. That’s the, and that is boring, it is drudgery because you have to ‘obey’ your addiction, as opposed to doing it because you want to do it. So in a period of... I don’t know, eight years, I’ve sort of gone from one, sort of where there was a choice to sort of, there’s no longer a choice.
 

Giving up smoking was part of a bigger project in Peter’s life: he wanted to get out of ”self-destructive” habits.

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Because when I stopped smoking I changed lots of other things too at the same time. So, so it’s like the smoking really was just one part of, of just sort of shifting my perspective overall on what I’m doing and what I want to be doing and how I go about doing it. So it was, it was part of a bigger project to, to sort of turn things around. And actually in that sort of bigger life context smoking was just a sort of small thing. Or that’s how I see it now. It was part of the bigger project.

And what’s the big project?

Well the bigger project is to, to enjoy work more and to enjoy life more and to just live well. Not do self-destructive and get out of self-destructive patterns. So, so in my situation I ended up being very highly qualified in my area and yet stuck perpetually in part time employment, which is to do with the whole way the market has changed.

So connected to sort of giving up smoking, you were saying, you mentioned thinking about turning 40?

Hm.

What role would you has age played in thinking about giving up smoking?

Well it’s part of the same thing, because by the time my parents were 40 I was 10 I’m still childless and still not in full time work and I’m approaching 40, and if I compare myself to my parents although of course I have a university education that they had never had, and all this sort of thing, in terms of welfare and well being and life experiences, you know, I’m way behind.

The significance of that, well yes yes, it is significant, because I’m also 40 you’re probably you’re past half, the half way mark of your life you know, life is precious and you have to do something more with it…

So you’re saying that smoking, if I’m right in connecting the two things was a self-destructive habit?

Yes.

And in what way do you mean self-destructive because there are lots of different way …?

Well obviously health wise. So this is what you know, but what you don’t do anything about when you’re a smoker because smoking is your security blanket. And so even if someone diagnosed you with cancer you’re probably, the first response would be to have a fag. Because that’s your security blanket.

So it’s destructive... it’s obviously destructive and it’s benefit, you know, the benefits of it has long, it’s a long time since the benefits of social pleasure and all the rest of it, you know, outweighs the you know, if you just look at its pros and cons [laughs]. So, so sort of, it’s a no brainer, but then but then you just have to you have to do it, that’s the tough bit.
 

Peter went to Boots to get advice and support on giving up smoking. He tried chewing gum as well as patches.

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I managed to stop the first time though and that was kind of partially by help buying the Boots programme, by going back and talking to the Boots people and being reminded. You know, just having some scaffolding around which to accompany it is quite important for me anyway. And so I did the same again when I did the second time round, because I knew that I could finish, I could get over the sort of initial hurdle which is the worst and…

Tell me about the Boots help, how you…?

Well it’s very simple. They tell you they set targets, they want you to come up with a date for finishing. So it sort of becomes concrete. And for me it was, it’s just very sensible and they give you a range of products and so the second time round I did it [laughs]. I was kind of clinging to the products more than the first time, because it was just cold turkey, it didn’t bother me, I didn’t bother with the products I just went back to kind of blow into the thing and tell them yes, I haven’t smoked and [laughs] and it was sort of validated and confirmed and that seemed to be its function.

And that kind of scaffolding. The second time round I was much more sort of dependent on the products and sort of oh I’m going away on holiday, I must have and all this kind of stuff. So kind of clinging to it.

So what prompted you to go to Boots and get the help?

Well I think in both, both times, the second time I knew that it, it would work, so why not just do the same thing again? First time I think it was just a sort of sense that because I work from home, alone. I don’t have people around me very much. You know, like it was working like I needed some other kind of context to, in which to fit this. Some other, someone else to be responsible to. And to sort of show it to. And also to sort of talk through what the problems are and all that sort of thing. Because they give you some good advice. I mean some of it is useful to you and some of it, not so useful. I think it depends what you need and you just kind of use and discard what you need.

So yes, so what prompted it was that and obviously the knowledge that it existed. I can’t remember how I found out but I did.

So what for you as an individual were some examples of the good advice that you got some things that you might have discarded?

Examples of good advice the second time round what stuck, what stuck with me, was this comment that the sort of receptors in your brain, she said would you know always be clued into nicotine. So if I have a fag you know, I’m probably going to be instantly addicted again [laughs]. Because that’s what happened. That’s what happened when I started again. So that was sort of quite sort of useful. I suppose.

The other one was that if, I would get quite irritable and that’s according to them that’s associated with a more sort of depressive personality which I thought was quite interesting and yes, setting a date, I think just achievable goals. it’s sort of sensible things. Replacement activities. Finding other things to do. Being systematic about it. Most of which were things that I kind of clung to more desperately in the immediate aftermath and then kind of developed into my own things later. So they give you some concrete little like brochures with, you know, I can’t remember exactly. It was like a, like a little table and, and you could write down sort of alternative activities other than smoking. Actually it just turned into silliness in my case. So I just wrote stupid things and then went and did stupid things, but that was just out of desperation [laughs]. And to make my wife laugh.

And but it sort of worked.
 

Peter announced on Facebook that he was quitting and has used an app on his phone called ‘Since I Quit’ to keep track of his progress.

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But you said that you put things out on Facebook, so it was more like the dissemination of information rather than the accumulation…?

Ah it’s just letting people know really. And it’s kind of like just announcing to your social circle, your social circles that that this is what, this is what you’re doing, it’s official and you mean it. You know, so it makes it real by telling others, because otherwise it’s just an idea in your head [laughs].

And then obviously from personal experience that you’re got an app about giving up smoking?

Yes. It helps to, it helps to well I don’t need to explain how it works, so it’s called “Since I Quit”, and I probably found this in the first week of quitting and basically you plot in your date that you stopped and then it tells you how many weeks days, hours, minutes and seconds since you stopped smoking and it’s counting sort of continuously. So now it’s 16 weeks, 4 days, 15 hours, 56 mins and 48 seconds and it tells you how much money you’ve saved or more alarmingly how many cigarettes you haven’t smoked?

So what are those figures?

Well right now it’s 1,399 cigarettes. By not smoking that number I have saved £175. I’ve probably underestimated the price perhaps, I’m not entirely sure, but it was rolls ups.
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