A-Z

Giving up smoking

Smoking: memories and experiences

After getting over the unpleasantness of the first few attempts, most people had begun to enjoy smoking. They often had good memories and associations with the times when they had smoked. People recalled smoking with friends while sitting on the grass at school, or hanging out with friends, enjoyed the ritual with a morning cup of tea or coffee to round off a meal or when they were on the phone.

What people thought of as ‘heavy’ or ‘light’ smoking varied a lot: Neil smoked 60 cigarettes a day and said that doctors couldn’t believe this when he told them, whilst Munir didn’t think his smoking was a health problem because he had ‘only’ 10-15 cigarettes a day. Cassie thought that the 10 a day she was smoking at age 13 years was ‘really a lot’.

Those who started smoking as teenagers often associated smoking with greater freedom or being ‘rebellious’ and found these things hard to give up when they thought about quitting. Later, when they decided to give up, it was often important for them to understand how smoking was part of their daily routine and why they smoked in the first place.
 

Gareth links smoking to other things like having a coffee in the morning or a pint of beer. He gave up recently and didn’t enjoy the last cigarettes he smoked.

View full profile
Age at interview: 58
Sex: Male
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
You link it with other things that you do. You link it to having a pint. You link it to having a cup of coffee in the morning. it’s as if they go together. Well you’re just kidding yourself really. But it’s the brain, you know, the brain tells you, well I guess the brain just tells you’re addicted. So you have it. But as for enjoyment, I mean I could, I mean three days ago I lit a cigarette, I think on the Sunday morning and I knew before lighting it that it’s just, it’s like that sort of behaviour. I didn’t really want that cigarette. And when I roll my own. When I’ve rolled my own until quite recently, I could just light, light it, take a few puffs and then throw the whole thing away. I didn’t have to. I never smoked right to the end ever. And I roll them thin, so I hardly, the other thing is I hardly did inhale, it just goes into my mouth and then out again. I never inhaled deeply.
 

John remembers enjoying a cigarette as a reward when he was rock climbing.

View full profile
Age at interview: 47
Sex: Male
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And there is something actually about having a cigarette on in the outdoors. If you climbed up a mountain, I’d reward myself with a cigarette. So it’s that, you sort of reward yourself for certain things, or you associate it with enjoying yourself with parties or drinking, or being out with people. And in the early nineties I did rock climbing and you get to the top of something that’s really scary, you get to the top and you thought wow, I’ve survived. I’ll have a cigarette and pat myself on the back because a lot of the old climbers did. And you wanted to be like them. The older climbers were two generations ago, and they worked in the pits or the steel mills or…

So yes, it was very much a mental picture of what a cigarette did for you, both in the way you looked and the way you felt about yourself. It sounds stupid really. But I look at old adverts from the 70s, I still find them if I dig up a magazine from the seventies, I think oh yes, Regal I remember that packet. I remember that advert. I remember that couple. Whatever it was. James Bond smoked Chesterfield [laughs]. So what? But you know...

So all the associations really were positive.
People often said that they didn’t remember making a ‘decision’ to smoke; it was just something that they and others around them ‘did’. Smoking often became completely ingrained in their routines; some found they couldn’t really concentrate on their work without a cigarette or relied on regular cigarette breaks. Gareth, who is an artist, would take a cigarette break to look at his work. Angela had regular cigarette breaks at the call centre where she worked.
 

Cassie smoked because she loved the taste. It was hard for her to stop because smoking was so strongly associated with everyday activities.

View full profile
Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
You know, it’s just the ... it's hard because it was a mental habit for me. You know, I was used to picking something up and having something in my hands, putting it into my mouth and I guess its repetition. I’ve done it so much that you know, if I don’t do it, I feel weird. And certain places, I’ve always smoked in my bedroom, so I spend a lot of time. I like to be with my family, I spend a lot of time in the house, and going out as well. You know, I’ve always smoked when I walked to the bus, I’ve always smoked when I’ve walked to the shop. Basically I smoke, I used to smoke whenever I left my house to walk somewhere just so I wasn’t bored on the way. And I’ve always smoked in my bedroom, so being in them places, though I can’t escape them places, the habits still there, it’s still fresh in my mind, and I just think oh…

Because if I’m at home, now, most of the time cigarettes are on my mind you know, or if I’m outside and I smell it, I like the smell. I enjoy, I’m not one of them people that just smokes because I just, because I do, or because I’ve been doing it for so long, or because I’m addicted and that’s the only reason. It’s because I love the taste, I love the smell, I love it. I’ve always loved it. I just know it’s not the right… breaking the habit is, is very, very hard, and it’s something you need a lot of work on to do, and I think you need a lot of support.
Despite the obvious health risks associated with smoking, people could often explain why they smoked and what they sometimes continued to find appealing about smoking. Some had clear ideas about what smoking meant to them and why they had continued to smoke as adults. Some of these reasons were social, for example to give oneself something to do when feeling self-conscious; it could even be a way of meeting people. Smoking was sometimes a way to get a break at work or part of relaxing with a coffee, or getting some time for oneself.
 

Smoking gave Caroline a confidence ‘boost’ when she was in unfamiliar social situations out, but also found it inconvenient when she needed to smoke at work

View full profile
Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
It kind of gives you confidence, I mean if you go to somewhere where you don’t make very many people for instance, somehow at the time to stand there smoking kind of gave me a bit more confidence, especially if you were with other smokers. It, somehow it just gave me a boost and I can’t really explain the boost what it was, but it made me feel better. It kind of, at the time I thought it relaxed me, although I realise now it actually stresses you more, because you’re then wondering when your next cigarette was going to be. I mean there’d, there’d be days when I’d come into work and I know that we had a meeting that might go on over lunch time. And my boss didn’t know I smoked, well he did originally, but when I first gave up he never knew I went back to smoking.

So then I’d be in the morning thinking oh I won’t be able to have a cigarette until he goes out. You know, and I’d be thinking counting out the hours until I could have that cigarette, and I think when I stopped smoking I suddenly realised I can go all day and not worry.
Less positively, some people said that they used smoking as a way to help them cope with stress and bereavement, mental health problems or domestic violence.
 

Sarah had an eating disorder and smoked before and after every meal. She couldn’t risk giving up until she knew she could eat without smoking.

View full profile
Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I mean lot of it for me was, it was quite habitual. So, I would always have, you know, I woke up in the morning, I had a cigarette. Then I did something else, then I had a cigarette. Because of my eating disorder I had to have a cigarette before every meal and after every meal, and I literally couldn’t sit down to a meal unless I’d had the cigarette. Which is why there was always that fear that it would affect my eating disorder as well. I mean that was a long time ago. So I think I had to explore some of those issues first.

Why did you have to have one before and after a meal?

I have some bizarre things I had to do before and after a meal. So I think that, you know, I had to wash my hands. I had to have my necklaces in a certain place. I had to do an awful lot of things and that was because I was ill you know, and smoking was one of them. And it was probably one of the last ones to go. But I had to know that actually I could sit and have a meal without having to have a cigarette before I could quit or even contemplate quitting. So I think it was two pronged. One I loved it. In some places I loved it. And then in other places it was keeping me well. It was allowing me to eat for some bizarre reason.
 

Anna thought that smoking might be a ‘self-destructive’ act; she remembers the ‘bonding’ experience of smoking with her family when her father died.

View full profile
Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I think also now there are lots of people who find the fact that I used to smoke totally bizarre and can’t really imagine it. But I’d never say never, you know, you just sort of think if something bad happens in your life, you might actually feel a self destructive urge that you might want to go for a while.

I think now I would think it would be, maybe I’m more hooked on that sort of sense of you know, you know, the memory of my Dad dying and just thinking I feel really bad anyway, and it’s almost like you’re sort of wanting to, I suppose in a way the smoking was a way of connecting with, you know, let’s put it that, my “left over patch work family”. None of these people are… well apart from my half brother, none of these are sort of blood relatives. So it’s sort of like a way of bonding with them. And yes, also just sort of, I don’t know, almost, finding some, some way to amplify your bad, you know, just how sad you are, or it’s difficult. I think it’s difficult to explain. I think it’s also sort of that sense of, when losing someone who’s so where the grief sort of feels like it’s really physical and you almost want to do something that numbs that, that strange, physical sensation. So smoking and making yourself a little bit sick, as a result, almost does something. You know, it does a job. It does a weird job.
Choice of brand

Brand image was powerful and associations were strong. While people sometimes struggled to remember public health campaigns, they could nearly always clearly remember advertisements for particular brands of cigarettes. People also spoke about the colours of packets, and older people recalled that years ago cigarettes were sold as ‘singles’ inside sweet bags, or given in exchange for recycling bottles at a shop.
 
Text only
Read below

Judith associated different cigarette brands with different types of people. [TEXT ONLY]

View full profile
Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
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.
 

Sarah used to buy ‘posh’ brands when she was abroad; she preferred ‘light’ low tar cigarettes.

View full profile
Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
So what brands did you like? Did you buy?

Do you know what? In Japan I can’t remember. They had lots of really bizarre brands. I remember the most common cigarette brand I couldn’t smoke. Everybody smoked it. It was really cheap. I can’t remember what they were called. But I couldn’t smoke it, because it made me all light headed. And I could only ever put it down to the cigarette brand.

But my cigarette of choice was always Marlboro Lights. More recently just as I was quitting Marlboro Silvers, but I couldn’t really find that brand any more.

When I go abroad if I ever have the chanced I loved Davidoff White and Vogue Lilacs makes me sound particular posh doesn’t it but they were exactly the same price when you were abroad, [laughs] it’s just to get they were my preferred.

What was it that you preferred about them?

They were all really, really light. Really light. I think the Vogue Lilacs and the Davidoff Whites I particularly like. They were white tipped. I don’t like the yellow tipped ones. I don’t really know I think I liked the packets. Oh I’m such a woman. Yes, no I really don’t know but I was always, it was the light of the cigarette the better. It made it more okay I guess.

meaning light in terms of …

Nicotines and tar yes.
 
Text only
Read below

As a teenager Andy smoked Lucky Strike – he’d heard that every so often a packet would include a cigarette with cannabis.

View full profile
Age at interview: 31
Sex: Male
HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I think we just always ended up I think you, you know, you just stick to a particular brand and I don’t know you kind of associate that brand with you know, I smoke these, he smokes them, whatever, and I guess that’s just as you say, just something that marketing people put in our heads. We probably unconsciously do it about everything, not just cigarettes, but we but particularly, particularly the brand that we chose, kind of like a defining brand. I think we, I think we were quite pleased with it, because it was, because nobody else smoked it, and it’s actually quite rare as well.

So what was that in the end?

It was Lucky, it was Lucky Strike. And because they were quite rare, well particularly when we first started, well sort of when we were about 16, 17 years old, and you could only get them in a few places. You couldn’t get them anywhere in the town we grew up in, so we’d have to go to [Place name]. Or when we were in [Place name], oh get to that place that does Lucky Strike. And it was like a treat.

Actually as well there was a, one of the other reasons as well, was that there was a rumour, possibly started by one of the mates, I don’t know, or it’s possibly something they read or heard or a friend of a friend told them, you know, that kind of… sort of tenuous link, but there was a rumour that every millionth pack or every millionth cigarette they made had cannabis in it. And so, on the streets of, you know, on the High Streets of, of the United Kingdom every millionth Lucky Strike was a joint, and so it became, you know, we bought these on just on the odd chance we might get the one with the joint in it. I don’t know, I can’t remember if I actually believed that or not. Because it’s obviously not true, but that was, I remember talking about that quite long and hard when we were first getting Lucky Strikes, but I hope I didn’t believe it. But it would be funny if I did.
The taste of different cigarettes mattered, and, whilst some people considered some brands of cigarettes too ‘strong’ or ‘harsh’, others preferred them because of this. As a teenager Laura had been thought cool because she could smoke strong cigarettes. Sue remembered that people knew whether she was in the office or not by the distinctive smell of her strong, French cigarettes. Often people stuck to a particular brand but others said that they would sometimes smoke whatever was available or whatever was cheapest – Cassie said that she had once been so desperate that she took a cigarette end out of a bin.

The amount that people smoked and their choice of brand and tobacco type sometimes changed over time. Abdul switched from cigarettes (or ‘straights’) to rolling tobacco as he thought it was ‘less harsh’ on his lungs. Haseen started on non-filter and then ‘promoted’ to filter cigarettes. Some people said they had mainly smoked tobacco with cannabis. Many of those who changed brand or switched to hand rolled tobacco did so because of cost.

Before people thought about quitting or even reducing the amount they smoked they often mentioned smoking ‘light’ cigarettes (i.e. with lower tar), or they chose menthol cigarettes.

People often tried not to smoke in front of kids or felt guilty when they did (see The role of others in the decision to quit). To limit the amount she smoked Bethan only smoked in certain areas of the house and never in her bedroom.

As time went on many people found that there were only a few cigarettes in the day that they really enjoyed, and most felt that most of their cigarettes were smoked through habit or addiction. Angela enjoyed one first thing in the morning. “And then perhaps one after tea, and then with your drink. That’s it - about two, two or three out of the 20 that you might be smoking. It’s the addiction isn’t it?” For many smoking had become a negative thing in their lives, and something they seemed almost to despise themselves for.
 

Mariam found herself cutting conversations short, and even avoided spending time with her children, because she wanted to smoke.

View full profile
Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
And I don’t know you feel like you’re in a trap, you’re trapped. First you start lying to yourself, it’s okay, it’s my friend, and after that, you kind of it’s like cigarette it’s like if you’re in a relationship you know. First you get so excited and you, you give everything to that relationship and he gives you everything, and then after that takes away more than it gives, you know, [laughs]. You know, you start, I start feeling that way. I have everything and then after that you start feeling this lack of breath. Mostly for me, it was, there was two things, like you, you wake up with some energy and then you always feel tired and then for a second you kind of can’t talk to people for too long. So you have to go and have a cigarette. You can’t even listen to them. You can’t even concentrate, even your own Mum, your own children, just have to go and it’s like, one day it’s like children were here watching TV and they wanted to watch TV, and I just say, “I need to go to sleep. You need to go to bed. I need to go sleep.” And they, they were not really because it was a recorded programme. They could watch it any other time after they left “oh Mum we want to stay”. Because I’m working away and coming for three days and I send them back and I thought they really didn’t care about this programme, because they have recorded, they could have watched it any time. They just wanted to spend time with me. They just wanted to sit down with me. But I put them, I pushed them away because I wanted to have a cigarette. It’s like, they really didn't know that I smoke. You know my son today was saying well this woman came interview “what about?” giving up smoking “did you smoke?”[Laughs].

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.
 

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

View full profile
Age at interview: 39
Sex: Male
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
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.
 

Chris realised most of her smoking was through habit, not pleasure. For example a phone call would make her reach for her cigarettes whether or not she really wanted one.

View full profile
Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
You were saying that you started to not enjoy cigarettes at one point you said?

Yes, there’s a lot of times in the day when cigarette smoking, it’s a habit. It’s more of a habit than it is. It’s not, you don’t do it permanently for enjoyment, because somebody used to ring and immediately I’d pick up the phone, then I’m going to a chat now. Where’s the cigarettes? And light a cigarette. I didn’t want one, because I would never have thought to have smoked until the phone rang, you know. If I read I don’t smoke a cigarette. When I’m ironing I can’t, I couldn’t smoke a cigarette. So you can do all these things and not have one. Yet when you’re not doing something the first thing you want to do is pick up a cigarette. But you don’t particularly enjoy that cigarette, you know. It’s, you can light one up and smoke it, and within ten minutes, I’ve done it myself, light another one up. Now it’s only ten minutes ago, I’ve just had one, and I think do I need this cigarette? It, it doesn’t taste very nice. But I think it’s your brain telling you yes, you do need it. So you smoke it anyway, regardless of whether you enjoy it, or whether you don’t. You do smoke it. I think you’re going to have read a books on not smoking, and they keep telling you in the book it’s your brain telling you, yes you do need it. You need that boost. You just have to say to yourself, no I don’t, I don’t need that.
Also see ‘Cannabis, alcohol and coffee’, ‘Money and smoking’, ‘Cutting down’, unsuccessful attempts and trying again’ and ‘Nicotine, dependence and cravings’.

Last reviewed August 2018.
donate
Previous Page
Next Page