Smoking and giving it up #stoptober

With the Stoptober campaign approaching I thought that I would tell my own story of having stopped smoking in the month of October, albeit in my case it was thirty nine years ago.

I first smoked, or tried to, aged about six. My father smoked as did most adult males back then in the nineteen fifties and my mother would sometimes have a cigarette too. Most of my friend’s parents smoked too and so when one of my pals produced a fag stolen from his dad we lit up and tried it. Neither of us liked the few puffs that we took and trying to inhale made us both gag so that was that for me and the demon weed for around ten years.

Aged about sixteen I tried again, this time solo. Smoking was cool; film and TV stars all seemed to do it as did most adults and it seemed almost a rite of passage from boy to man. My first attempts were clumsy and I couldn’t seem to inhale, but I practised posing, trying to look moody and playing with different ways of holding a cigarette to look smooth.

Eventually I got the hang of inhaling and although I was under age it was not hard to buy my smokes for there were cigarette machines outside almost every parade of shops in those days.

A couple of years later we moved to Essex and I started work full time there in the October of 1969. My boss was an ex-Royal Navy man who smoked Capstan cigarettes and at Christmas he gave me a box of 200 Senior Service, another plain (non-filter) fag like Capstan, but not as strong. I can’t remember for sure what brand had been smoking until then, but I began to smoke Senior Service from then for a while and my consumption slipped up to around forty a day.

A girl friend (that is a friend who was a girl, for we were not in any way romantically together) was into Passing Clouds and Sobranie amongst other exotic cigarettes and she introduced me to these so I would smoke my Senior Service through the working day and then switch to something more unusual in the evenings when out socially.

A change of job moved me into a working group where rolling your own was the norm and, for a time I did too, switching between Old Holborn and Golden Virginia tobaccos. Around this time one of the tricks for parties was to chop some pot pourri into your rolling tobacco. It gave off interesting aromas and passing such smokes around for people to have a drag and pass on gave the illusion of something else being shared. If someone took their turn and said “Good weed man” your reputation was enhanced and a few more party invites were assured. (Did I ever smoke the real thing? I have no idea; I certainly took a puff of anything that was being handed around and some of them were rather, shall I say, interesting, but whilst Bill Clinton can say he did, but didn’t inhale I don’t have a clue: At most of these parties I was pissed anyway).

I moved on from rolling my own to Stuyvesant for the crumple pack was another cool aspect of smoking, but the down side was that the pack and contents would get crushed if you weren’t careful and I turned to Capstan Full Strength and kept these in a cigarette case. These became my main smoke for a couple of years and I was getting through three packs a day.

As a child I had suffered from bronchial asthma, triggered by infection rather than by stress or other factors, and as I became an adult I was still vulnerable to a heavy cold getting onto my chest. It seemed that every Autumn I would pick up a throat infection that would move south and lay me low for a couple of weeks. By 1975 I was working as a salesman and on the road all hours when I picked up a bad throat infection and could barely speak for a couple of days. That infection headed down my tubes and I was off work for two weeks; whilst a determined salesman can get orders without being able to talk, I could not risk one of my violent coughing fits whilst driving. In any case even the smallest effort saw me out of breath so work was out, but so also, for obvious reasons, was smoking.

Once this particular bout of bronchitis was over I decided to try giving up as it had taken me nearly six weeks to get recover and I had not smoked in all of that time. I still had some desire to smoke, but I was making a determined effort not to until on a first evening out with a new lady friend she lit up two Rothmans and passed one to me. I took it, smoked it and my resolve was gone. Within a week I was back on sixty a day, albeit that I had switched to Rothmans King Size now rather than the acknowledged coffin nails of Capstan.

Almost a year later I succumbed to another chest cold and this time I saw the senior partner at our local surgery, a man who spoke in the same deep Scots tones as Doctor Cameron on the TV series Dr Finlay’s Casebook. He looked through my record card after examining me and read me the riot act: In ten to twelve years I could expect to be having the first signs of heart trouble and would probably be enjoying my first heart attack in another ten. Another ten beyond that and I might well be showing signs of lung cancer. I should stop smoking was his final message as he wrote out my prescription.

I dropped off his hieroglyphics at the chemist for them to decipher and went back to work. He had given me a sick note for two weeks, but I would keep going for another day or two because I needed the money. My gross basic pay as a salesman in 1976 was twenty seven pounds fifty a week, but with commission I was taking home just over eighty pounds a week after deductions for tax and insurance; two weeks off was a huge hit to my pocket.

It was around eight that evening when I made my last call and headed back to home in Upminster with my doctor’s words still ringing in my ears. Driving along with the window open as I passed the surgery my hand plucked the packet of Rothmans from my breast pocket and tossed them out of the car. It was almost an automatic reaction; an unconscious thought rather than a considered act and it took me a moment to realise what I had done, but that was it and I was no longer a smoker.

Around the time that I stopped smoking my dad had to go to hospital for tests. He had pricked his arm on a rose thorn and it was not healing very well. Those tests led to more tests and the revelation that he had a growth in the airway to one lung. An operation to take a biopsy revealed that he had lung cancer, but the incision did not heal and less than two years later later he died. He was fifty seven and had been a smoker since he was in his teens. My doctor’s prophecy of my possible future was perhaps strikingly accurate for his prediction of possible signs of cancer in my mid-fifties certainly came true for my dad, but I had given up after smoking for about eight years and have outlived dad, so far, by almost six years.

I did enjoy smoking and then I gave up. There was no weaning off period and I gave up of my own free will if heavily influenced by my doctor. For some time afterwards I did feel a desire to smoke, but not enough to overcome the desire not to. Perhaps I was not a dedicated enough smoker; reading back through this blog I am struck by how often I have referred to smoking being cool and the pose factor. Maybe that was all that I was to me, a sign of being a man and trying to look good. Whatever, I was able to go from being a heavy smoker to a non-smoker in the blink of an eye and I have been very grateful that I was able to stop when I did. If you smoke I hope that you will find a way to stop too. Good luck.





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