I realized just how far nicotine had got me addicted when I was going out to play pool one day. I had my jacket on and I was anxiously patting my pockets because I was worried I’d forget my cigarettes. I had a full packet opened and another packet that was opened and half-full, and two cigarette lighters (in case one ran out of gas). This was all very well, but I was only going out for an hour! That’s how hooked I was – and I realized that the hold cigarettes had over me was every bit as strong as the effects of the booze.
When I did eventually quit smoking, I went through a truly awful time. I had two beautiful Labrador dogs back then, and I can remember one particular day when I took them for a walk down
by the river. I was in the process of giving up smoking and I felt
The sun was sparkling on the water and the wind was gently
whispering through the trees, and it should have been a perfect
moment to enjoy, but all I could think about was how miserable I
felt. I was virtually praying for God to take me off the Earth. The
reason I felt that was because giving up smoking had brought up
lots of feelings that I’d been numbing through nicotine.
Some people find it easier to quit smoking than
others. This is partly due to physical factors, and
partly due to the fact that some of us just find
it almost impossible to break addiction.
But emotionally, if like me you have an addictive nature, you’re still
likely to find it very tough. A lot of people find they put on weight
when they quit. This was something that I experienced, because
suddenly there was a void in me where the nicotine had been. I
reacted by stuffing myself with sugar!
I also tried substituting expensive Havana cigars for all those
cigarettes (based on the logic that I’d only smoke one per day),
but within a few days I was smoking four or five Havanas in an
afternoon and I’d have soon been bankrupt.
If ever there was a case of moving the deckchairs around on the Titanic this was it. All I was doing was swapping one addiction for another. I eventually stuck to sugar, but I was just replacing the mood-altering effects of tobacco with refined carbohydrates. I suddenly found myself eating about six Snickers bars a day. Instead of using my hands to light up, every time I experienced a trigger. I was stuffing my face with chocolate. I’m a bit more controlled these days, but even now I’m partial to the odd pudding.
The Health Risks of Smoking
In any hospital waiting room you can usually spot the smokers from ten miles away. They’re emaciated and coughing; they’re flushed, they’re often skinny and they generally look dreadful. It’s terrifying that people can do that to themselves. We all know that tobacco causes lung cancer, but there are a whole raft of additional ways in which cigarettes can ravage our bodies. Smoking causes medical problems that many people are completely unaware of.
For instance, one of the serious effects is something called peripheral neuropathy, in which a combination of smoking and drinking causes damage to your nerve endings at your extremities. It can lead to terrible numbness in your hands and feet. Victims can become susceptible to gangrene and can end up being forced to have a limb amputated.
So smoking doesn’t just cause diseased lungs. That’s only part of it: there’s an endless list of other ailments, like high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. You don’t have to be a doctor to spot a heavy smoker: it’s normally written on the person’s face. Long-term smokers have what I call ‘an expensive face’. They look wrinkled and tired, as if they’ve been in a battle to survive drudgery all their life. I don’t mean this in a derogatory way – I’m the first to admit that I’ve an expensive face of my own! The crow’s feet around my eyes are the legacy of the 60 a day I was smoking while I was playing pool.
It’s impossible to estimate the total cost to the UK’s National Health Service of treating smoking-related conditions, but it’s clearly a gargantuan figure. As I mentioned earlier, according to ASH, there are around 100,000 deaths a year from smoking, but as we have seen that’s just one part of the story. What seems certain to me is that if the NHS were to provide genuine help for those who wish to quit, it would almost certainly be self-funding.
By this I mean that the cost of the treatment would be far outweighed by the cost saving from not having to treat so many
smokers. Unfortunately, prescribing people nicotine patches if
they’ve an addictive nature is unlikely to work. The answer instead
lies in tackling the root cause of why some people are so sensitive to emotional distress.
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