Sunday, May 29, 2016

I think I've finally quit for real - here's how I did it, and why

I've probably had 4-5 attempts at quitting smoking between my last post (2013) and now (2016), but I think this last attempt might have been the final one - I haven't smoked in over 4 months now.

Let's start with the most important thing when it comes to quitting smoking, or perhaps, any kind of addiction: Why.

Some of my old readers (those of you who are still around, that is) would know the first time I tried to quit smoking was back when I was 17 - when my mother also tried to emotionally blackmail me by threatening to start smoking. Yes, it is unfortunate that I started smoking so early in life, and even more unfortunate that I was such an addict by age 17 that I had already realised I needed to quit. Needless to say, I tried and failed miserably.

Each time I tried to quit, I failed, and each time, I became more hesitant to quit. Somehow I still managed to gather the strength, energy and willpower to try again, and for the past 15 years, the top item on my new year's resolution was to quit smoking.

I tried everything. Chewing gum and mint candies in my teens; cessation clinics, cessation programs, nicotine replacement therapies like gum, lozenges, and patches; and even tried quitting together with friends and/or siblings who smoked. We all failed. Each time. Numerous times.

At some point I moved from Singapore to Pakistan, which was supposed to be a short-term thing, so I decided to get into smoking wholeheartedly because it was dirt cheap to get good-quality cigarettes (SGD 1 or PKR 55 for a pack of Marlboro reds). Bad decision, I know. But it would've been impossible to quit smoking in a city (Karachi) where each and every male and female friend of mine smoked. I harnessed a large circle of friends, yet somehow they were ALL SMOKERS. In this supposedly short-term period, I even got married, and my partner joined me in Karachi as well. Poor thing was so in love with me, she was happy becoming a passive smoker.

We had a 'no smoking in the bedroom' rule that I was often allowed to violate. Needless to say, I had become quite comfortable as a smoker.

Yes, of course there was an attempt made at quitting smoking before I got married. I remember, on the day of my wedding, I had to be seated for a very long period in public, but one of my uncles, out of regard for my addiction, managed to brisk me out with a reasonable excuse just so I could smoke. He was an ex-smoker so he understood the pain. (Can't expect that level of compassion from a non-smoker, EVER.)

I look back at my life in Karachi sometimes - it was all hunky dory - except that some nights I would open my pack of cigarettes before going to bed to only see 1-2 cigarettes in there, and I would panic. Even if it was 3 am (when all the nearby stalls were closed), I'd grab the car keys and make a dash for the nearby pump to get a refill. I couldn't imagine the horror of not having enough cigarettes to get through the morning.

I had a ridiculously problematic car so I remember several times when I walked to the nearby Caltex in the middle of the night, even. I can't describe the paranoia that comes with addiction - like something that could never be risked.

Through these years, I've begged and borrowed if necessary, just to get my daily dose of nicotine. In a country like Pakistan, the hawkers understand the addiction and they're largely comfortable with starting tabs if need be, just so they can make their sales, and you can get your fix. Anyway.

What started out as, 'oh it's so unhealthy to smoke' and 'I don't want my loved ones to smoke passively' soon became 'I don't want my addiction to control me'. It did.

It affected my job, because I took more smoke breaks than non-smokers. It affected my diet, because I'd avoid food if I didn't also have time to smoke a couple afterwards. It affected my relationships, because I avoided people and situations where I couldn't smoke. At night, it affected my sex life, because I wanted to smoke before and after. It affected my sleep, because I just couldn't get enough nicotine in me, and when I had enough I couldn't sleep.

I'm sorry for the long-winded history lesson to tell you why I wanted to quit, but I thought context was important - everyone's context is different. Mine was this: my addiction was out of control.

As someone with atopic asthma, I used to smoke slowly - taking about 10-12 minutes per cigarette. I probably only averaged around 15-18 cigarettes a day, but there were party nights and beach days when I'd get through two packs of cigarettes in a single day. That's more than 40 cigarettes.

Sometimes I'd have unexplained headaches, which were horrible, and it would take me a while to realize I was smoking for far too long on an empty stomach. I was blissfully miserable.

I knew quitting smoking meant I needed the support of ex-smokers and smokers alike. Ex-smokers because they knew exactly what it would take, and smokers, because they had to become tolerant of the hatred all quitters try to embrace towards cigarettes and smoking. The latter often proved to be an impossibility within my wonderful group of friends. And non-smokers are just unbearable - they have absolutely no regard, compassion or empathy for quitters. They just can not relate to us.

So I decided to embark on creating a program called War On Smoking - named after this blog - to help people like me in similar situations. I got the wireframes ready for the app and website, and wrote some materials that I would also follow with the first group of recruits when we launched. The startup even got selected by an Acumen-PASHA fund, pending final selections. I took my wife in as a partner because she's a doctor who could not only explain the dangers of smoking and the effects of chronic obsessive pulmonary disorder (COPD) but also perhaps give her seal of approval on the program as well as prescription of nicotine replacement therapies. It was a good plan.

We stayed up all night preparing for the presentation, but we had a major argument in the morning. She didn't want to give her seal of approval, or even suggest that she might do it later, because this program was 'fake'. The creator of it, myself, was still a smoker, so I shouldn't be selling this program, she opined. My argument was: I need this program for me - as the primary user I will ensure its success and learn from its failure. Whatever the case, we ditched the selections and that was that.

By this time it was clear in my mind what exactly I needed to quit smoking successfully. I needed:
1. Some medicine or nicotine supplement to help me get through the initial withdrawal.
2. An environment where cigarettes weren't easily available.
3. A shift in my primary social group to one where most people did not smoke.
4. Plenty of things in my schedule to keep me occupied.

I hadn't anticipated our relocation to London last year (2015), but I welcomed the move, and noted how I might be able to fulfill the ideal conditions I needed to quit smoking soon. However, I remained patient.

I arrived in London with just 2 cartons of cigarettes, hoping to get through the homelessness and joblessness at a fast pace. But these things take time. Took us a month to figure out the house (which you need to be able to see a doctor who can prescribe nicotine replacement pills). It took another month for me to sort out my job. And then another month for the end-of-year holidays to finish and my job to begin.

At some time in January when I had begun working full-time I went to see my GP, who referred me to a nurse who got Champix prescribed to me. What a wonderfully horrifying medicine, this Champix. You experience all the horrible side-effects mentioned in the leaflet - there wasn't one that I didn't experience. On some days I was in a worse state than my pregnant wife! (Her words, not mine!) But boy, does this medicine work!

The nurse told me to continue smoking as per usual as I started taking Champix. She more than encouraged me to smoke, because this medicine blocks the receptors in our brains that receive pleasure from nicotine. So every time I smoked, it wasn't as pleasurable, resulting in me only smoking when it was truly essential.

But then the dose went up! By the 8th day of me taking the medicine, I was more than ready to completely stop smoking cigarettes altogether. I had already decided that 9 being my lucky number, my quit day would be day 9, and so it was.

The nurse urged to see me or speak to me every week as the medicine can have some horrible side-effects, as does quitting smoking, so it requires a lot of support and coaching. She was worried I was taking on too much too soon, but I was adamant on quitting smoking successfully.

The way Champix works is that you have to take it for 4 months. The quit date is set in the 2nd week, and then, to counter slips, because they do occur, you have to continue taking the drug to ensure that you don't get any pleasure from smoking, even if you do slip and find yourself lighting up. It's kind of like your own will against your own will, I know. But it worked for me.

I could, of course, simply stop taking the medicine, but it would have to be a conscious choice for me to set myself up to get pleasure from smoking, whereas smoking a cigarette for an addict would often be, in some way, an unconscious or semi-conscious choice - one that we'd regret later. Whatever the case, the drug really helped, I feel, despite its horrible side-effects. I don't think I could've done it without it.

I slipped several times. Once I bought a 10-cigarette pack, and I think I smoked at least 8 of them in a week. A few times when I met smoker friends, I'd ask for a puff or two. But smoking just was not the same any more. And I would always try to remind myself of all the horrible lucid dreams, the nausea and headaches, and so many other things (flatulence, ahem!) that I endured. When I'd take the puff and it wouldn't deliver the satisfaction I'd expected, I reminded myself of these things and resolved to persevere. Even those 8 cigarettes I smoked I didn't get through each one of them. Most of them were chucked less than halfway through. So yes, I'd recommend Champix.

I kept at it for a month, but then I just couldn't take the medicine any more. It was affecting my (new) job, and taking its toll on me in a time when I needed to be there for my pregnant wife. I also felt quite confident by the end of my first month as a non-smoker because I knew my physical addiction had gone. It was the habitual addiction that I had to watch out for, but it was unlikely to become a problem since none of my friends who smoked were around, and none of my colleagues smoked.

And psychological addiction can trigger in at any time of your life. I learnt this the hard way in my previous 'successful' quit attempt when I quit for almost 8 months. This time I will watch out for that one.

Another reason why I didn't take Champix for the full 4 months was because I had a daughter on her way - I was about to become a dad - so I did have that extra reserve of willpower to count on, if needed. But it didn't come to that. My reasons for quitting smoking were clear to me - I didn't want to be an addict any more.

I have now been clean since 4 months, and I have yet to break my previous quit smoking record of 8 months, but I am feeling much more confident now. As for the four conditions to quit smoking, they are also being met:

1. Some medicine or nicotine supplement to help me get through the initial withdrawal.
>>> I took Champix for the first month and it worked like a charm, and didn't keep my hooked to nicotine like other nicotine replacement therapies.
2. An environment where cigarettes weren't easily available.
>>> Cigarettes aren't cheap in the UK. Plus they don't sell loose cigarettes here.
3. A shift in my primary social group to one where most people did not smoke.
>>> My friends who smoke live far away so I don't see them on a day to day basis. None of my colleagues smoke. In fact three of them are ex-smokers so that really helped.
4. Plenty of things in my schedule to keep me occupied.
>>> I have this new demanding job, a lovely baby at home who keeps us occupied, and when I get some free time, I am pursuing an educational program, so I am super duper busy.

I suppose when I find some time I can look into putting this program in place for smokers around the world who wish to quit. In the mean time, I hope this piece helps you, and if you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line. I still run the War On Smoking Facebook page and I also have a little Facebook Group called The United Federation of Ex-Smokers with some of my ex-smoker friends. Support groups do help! Just drop me a line and I will be happy to add you in

Good luck to you in quitting smoking. And if you're reading this to help someone else quit smoking, bless you for making the extra effort to understand their addiction - this is just the right way to build empathy towards nicotine addiction.

Monday, June 17, 2013

I'll Try Hypnosis

This quit smoking business. We addicts keep pushing it further and further away. I'll quit when I graduate. I'll quit when I find a job. I'll quit when I find another job. I'll quit when I get married. I'll quit when my free time is taken up by my startup business. I'll quit when my wife gets pregnant. I'll quit when I have my first child...

Does this go on forever? My lungs have suffered. And now that I'm married, my wife's lungs suffer. We fight when I smoke in the room. And my kid sisters who so earnestly campaigned to have me quit have given up on me.

Free time is hard to kill when there are no cigarettes. Maybe I will quit when I move to a more developed country where there are more restrictions on smoking in public areas, and cigarettes cost an arm and a leg? Definitely shouldn't wait for my first child to be born before I quit.

I just need to figure out some way I can trick my mind into thinking cigarettes don't exist.

I'll try hynosis, if it helps me quit!

Monday, December 19, 2011

The War has taken to Facebook now

Join the War On Smoking on Facebook! Click here to 'like' us - like they often say - if you can't beat them, join them! 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ex-smoker's diary

I take pride in the achievements of others, especially when it pertains to kicking the nicotine cancer stick. Here's a piece from DG (Usman), a good friend, eccentric colleague and a hard-willed geek.

DG (Usman)'s Quit Smoking Story:

You wake up with a shiver, the darkness takes it time to set in. You take a deep breath, smack your lips and get out of the sheets. You sit on the edge for the longest time waiting for the ringing in your head to stop. You try to breathe, only one lung seems functional, electric fucking jolts in your chest. FUCK. Breathe slow, breathe.

And so it begins. Today is the tomorrow of yesterday. And you fucking hate it.

Getting up, dressing up, going to wherever.

Greet people, meet people, put up a smile, wince at them, whisper vulgarities and the day is still young.

Go to the “smoking room”. Pat your pockets, feel the crisp packet of Davidoff’s, the lighter and a packet of supari, to kill the smell after the cigarette.

Comfortable on a sofa, pull the table close, the ash tray closer. Pull out a cigarette, pull out the lighter, fire it up, light it up.

Inhale. Deep.

Bitter smoke, bitter taste and you try to smile. Nicotine will make everything alright.

Tilt your head back and close your eyes.


You fall off a cliff, plunge hard into a black pool of filth, lungs fill up with acid and your attempts to scream are muffled by smoke.

Open your eyes again, pay attention to the chatter, try to smile, try to talk.

The bitterness seeps in from the bottom of your stomach and boils up like a volcano trying to lift the 10 ton iron block in your stomach. It fails.

You try to be fair, you try to be kind, you try to be nice to people. But you can’t. The chatter grows louder in your ears and the filth finds every vein, every nerve, every muscle and starts to strain it. An old unfamiliar pain. A blind man taking a walk in the forest, midnight unpleasantness.

Stub it finally. End it. Stop feeling like a 70 year old impotent douche bag.

Get back to whatever you were doing, smelling like a chimney,  everyone maintains a distance. Utilize the supari, munch it, chew it, roll it around for a long time without purpose or intent. Swallow the sickly paste and drink a glass of water.

Water. Burns through the gums, a stream of glass shards down the neck.

The phone rings and you jump. Blood fades away from your veins and the hammers knock on the heartbeat. So scared that you don’t even want to close your eyes. You can’t even close your eyes if you wanted to. Coz you’re just scared. Your eyes burn with pain. But you won’t give in. Coz you’re scared.
And then you go back “outside”, you go to the “smoking room”. You go anyfuckingplace where you would supposedly  find peace and solace for the 6 minutes you smoke.

But you don’t want to smoke. You know you will feel like shit. You know you will tumble into the filth pit and you know you the 10 ton block will fall hard at the bottom of your stomach.

But you can’t stop. You want to smoke. You don’t want to quit. WHY? Why the fuck would you torture yourself? Is this self injury? Is this rebellion? Is this hate? Is this an escape?
NO! NO! Please NO!

But you light up one anyway. Feels like kissing a shotgun. Get shot down with every puff. Every inhale fucks you up a bit more. Inch by inch, bit by bit an anxiety builds up and washes over you like a panic attack you don’t deserve.

Eyes swell up, throat tightens and the world seems to have come to an end.

Stub it. You’re done. Repeat this ritual 6 times a day. One after every meal, one after every cup of tea.

Better living through a Nine Inch Nails song. Better living being a Nine Inch Nails song.

I got my head but my head is unraveling
Can't keep control can't keep track of where it's traveling
I got my heart but my heart's no good
You're the only one that's understood
I come along but I don't know where you're taking me
I shouldn't go but you reaching back and shaking me
Turn off the sun pull the stars from the sky
The more I give to you the more I die!

But I don’t want to die. I just want to live.

So you stop. Don’t smoke. Just stop. Don’t smoke. Stay away from smokers.

Does it work?

You wake up with a shiver, the darkness takes it time to set in. You take a deep breath, smack your lips and get out of the sheets. You sit on the edge for the longest time waiting for the ringing in your head to stop. You try to breathe. Your lungs fill up with sweet cool air, every inch of your lungs comforts the air that goes in. and you let out. Feels good. This is going to be a good day. Lets go!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Obama kicked off his smoking habit, maybe I should too

Well, not really. But I made a promise to myself on this very blog many times over - to quit before I get married. And that gives me two months now... So here's what I've done so far...

I bought a carton of cigarettes. Yes, yes, I did. It doesn't make sense but it does to me. I'm a smoker. Maybe another smoker understands this. Apart from the obvious cost savings, my thought process said, "Okay, you wanna quit right? So let this be your last carton. You can start cutting back with a plan, with this last carton. OR! You can smoke all you want, and once the carton finishes, you can stop buying cigarettes. Either ways, when you finish your carton, you can't buy cigarettes. You can beg/borrow/steal but not buy. And then let's take it from there."

(Wow, I didn't know my 'thought process' had a personality!)

My oldest and closest friend is also in town, and he's as religious as I am not. And because he gives the Islamic month of Moharram a lot of significance, he told me he was going to quit starting the 1st of Moharram. Have yet to check on him to see how he's doing. But it's cool that I have a partner to quit with.

Anyway, so I'm down to my last two packets, and it's Saturday night. Every Saturday morning, I always leave home with two packs of cigarettes, because it's usually a long night, and I always run out of cigarettes. So what now? I didn't cut down at all ever since I bought the carton, but my consumption did vary (on an hourly basis, depending on my mood). And now these are my last two packets.

Sure, these aren't exactly the ideal conditions for me to quit smoking, but still, why NOT take the chance if I can?

What will happen next? Let's find out. Stay tuned.

Btw, click here to read about Barack's latest quit attempt (he's been at it since 9 months and going strong!)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why the War on Smoking Will Fail

Steven Yates

Why the War on Smoking Will Fail

Steven Yates has a Ph.D. in philosophy and recently received a master’s in health promotion and education.
Everyone knows that smoking is a risky business, health-wise. Cigarettes have been linked to many diseases and conditions, from lung cancer and heart problems on down. One of the first bits of advice a doctor gives a patient who smokes is to quit. Although not everyone suffers ill health from smoking—there are cases of people who chain-smoke for decades with few if any apparent health problems—the preponderance of the evidence is that cigarette smoking damages one’s health over the long run.
Does it follow from this that governments ought to declare war on smoking? Should those who manufacture and sell cigarettes to willing customers in an open market be sued for billions of dollars?
Before answering this question straightaway, let us make an obvious point. If smoking damages one’s health, then it does make sense to work at encouraging smokers to quit and to discourage teenagers from starting. How do we do this?
The first thing to note is that no one ever kicked the habit permanently who was forced to do so. This is equivalent to attacking the symptoms of a disease while leaving the disease’s causes untouched. Government- suppressed behaviors will simply go underground where their dangers actually increase, not decrease (the situation with illegal recreational drugs in America). Making smoking illegal is obviously not a live option, as it would provoke a mass rebellion: the Prohibition-era crime wave would look tame by comparison! But expanded government can use the legal system in other ways. The most popular at present is to file suit, ostensibly to cover the costs of treating smoking-related health problems. Hence the “tobacco war.”
If the aim of this “war” is less smoking, it is likely to fail.
The person who successfully quits must want to quit. No one can be forced to quit. Not really. Quitting smoking can be hard even for those who want to kick the habit. Many people try to quit many times. A number of approaches are currently used in smoking-cessation programs. The best involve carefully planned, systematic behavior-change efforts that make use of devices such as careful self-observation, diary-keeping, and so on. The would-be quitter may be asked to record the circumstances in which he smokes, or the moods that tempt him to smoke, the people he tends to be around, where he is when he smokes, and so on. The point is to understand as thoroughly as possible the situations that prompt him to smoke and then to address those situations. He may be encouraged to arrange new situations that don’t involve smoking, find new friends if all his friends smoke, avoid the establishments where he smokes. He may be told to get rid of ashtrays and all other visible reminders of his habit. There may be actions he can take that are incompatible with smoking and can substitute for it. He may be asked to record his successes in his journal and what led to them. If he lapses—as most who quit cigarette smoking will do from time to time—he may be asked to record as many details as he can remember of what prompted the lapse. Where was he? Who was he with? What was he thinking about? And so on. In this way people can learn to control their behaviors instead of allowing their behaviors to control them. To be sure, there are people who quit “cold turkey” and never look back. But this is not the norm. Millions of people have quit smoking once they learned the health risks. For most, the process was arduous and strewn with lapses into the old patterns of behavior.

People Are Different

What makes serious smoking-cessation efforts more complex is that what is needed for success differs somewhat from person to person, because people are different. A technique that works well for one person might be totally ineffective for someone else.
Moreover, while millions have quit, millions more have also started during the same period. Despite government-imposed warning labels on every cigarette pack, cigarettes continue to sell briskly. Despite age limits for legally purchasing cigarettes, they continue to fall into the hands of teenagers who want them, whether they believe it will make them more “adult,” more acceptable to their peers, or for whatever other reasons, which again vary from case to case. They aren’t thinking about the long-term health risks. Although everyone knows about these, they just aren’t a priority for everyone.
Many libertarians openly defend a person’s right to smoke if that is their informed choice. The challenge is to the unstated premise that if X is unhealthy behavior, then X ought to be fought by the government to the greatest extent possible, and banned if possible. Accepting this premise is what separates “health nazis” from genuine health promoters. The latter have some insight into human complexity. They know that many factors can motivate people to smoke, and that quitting is rarely a matter of sheer will power. They also recognize that laws, lawsuits, and top-down mandates have a poor track record.

Reforming Oneself

All the science we have on smoking cessation points in a single direction: it must begin at the bottom—where the individual smoker is, in the situations the person actually confronts in life—and proceed upward. It must begin with the person’s sincere desire to quit and willingness to do, on a personal level, whatever it takes.
Force doesn’t work. It will only exacerbate the problem by encouraging resentment and rebellion, and not addressing those factors that lead people to smoke or doing what needs to be done for them to quit. Ironic as it sounds, the government’s war on smoking may well be a stumbling block to serious anti-smoking efforts.
The message (lest there be any doubt) is sound: don’t smoke! If you don’t smoke now, don’t start. If you do, consider quitting. But this message can’t be forced on anyone. It cannot be the basis of a workable and effective top-down policy. It is remarkable that the best findings in scientific health promotion are very much in line with the conclusions of those who believe that decisions, transactions, and so on, within society should be voluntary and not coerced.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

'R' rating for movies with characters smoking?

*crisp sarcasm oozing out of this post*

Knowing that nothing turns kids into pleasure seeking, nicotine craving, carcinogenic-sucking zombies more than seeing a film character light up, the good folks at the Centers for Disease Control are suggesting that film makers give an R rating to all films that depict tobacco imagery.

Fortunately kids don't find gunplay, martial arts, explosions, car chases, dirty jokes, and laying some length to a hot babe cool, or we would have quite a quandary on our hands. Then again, the CDC could be onto something.