Up in smoke: more and more stubbing out cigarette habit

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Today many NI people will have been 12-days cigarette free, having resolved to quit smoking in the new year. HELEN MCGURK reports on the dwindling appeal of smoking

Many readers will remember the (bad) old days, when smoking in enclosed, fug-filled spaces, like aeroplanes, buses and offices, was perfectly fine.

Ex smoker Jason Shankey

Ex smoker Jason Shankey

Time was, everyone smoked; my parents did, my primary schoolteacher did (chain-smoking like a navvy as she taught us the intricacies of long division); so did my 10-year-old friend, who pilfered Woodbines from the pockets of her granny’s housecoat.

On television we watched snooker players, like belligerent Belfast boy Alex Higgins, puffing away between potting, as a thick pea-souper of smoke hung over the auditorium, whilst darts’ players like Eric Bristow and pudgy Scot, Jockey Wilson, both smoked like trains.

Cars were equipped with fiddly ashtrays and cigarette lighters; it was a rite of passage for all children to burn themselves on a car cigarette lighter at least once before the age of 10.

I remember going to visit relatives and a cake stand of cigarettes would be passed around along with the tea and butterfly buns. Perfectly normal hospitality.

I also recall puffing on sweetie cigarettes as my friends and I played the popular game of the day, ‘60-a-Day Habit’.

The candy cigarettes were banned in the UK in the 1980s, and we were forced to find our kicks elsewhere.

From black and white movies, with iconic smokers like James Dean, Lauren Bacall and Marlene Dietrich, to teen rebellion, smoking has lit up our culture and had a certain cachet until we realised it could kill us.

Further back, smoking was once such an esteemed activity that it was awarded its own jacket: waist-length, with a shawl collar and fashioned out of velvet or silk, it was designed to protect gentlemen’s normal attire from the scent of smoke, which was an offence to the ladies.

Most forms of cigarette advertising are now banned in the UK. However, in their prime, they were influential works of art. Remember the one where the cuddly St Bernard would toddle over a mountain with some St Bruno tobacco in a pouch around his big, fluffy neck for a man stuck in a snow-bound hut, or the slogan ‘happiness is a cigar called Hamlet’.

During my university days I decided to take up smoking. All the witheringly cool students smoked so I thought it would be hip to follow suit.

What a mistake. Smoking is not big and it’s not clever. Never mind the expense, it makes you stink like a pub carpet (despite spritzing breath-fresheners like Gold Spot or snaffling packets of Polo Mints) and can give you cancer.

Eventually I wised up, and with the help of nicotine patches stopped the awful habit.

As the graph (top right) shows cigarette smoking is declining. In Northern Ireland, with 16.5 per cent (226,000) of the population classified as smokers.

That figure is down from 19 per cent just two years ago.

Another person who decided to kick the habit and believes the start of a new year is a good time to start, is businessman Jason Shankey, who runs a group of hair and skincare salons in Belfast.

‘‘I started smoking at 11 years of age. I suppose at the time it was because my mates were all smoking and we used to buy singles at the petrol station. By the time I was in first year I was buying a packet of 10, spending my money on cigarettes instead of lunch. The habit gradually crept up on me then. I couldn’t imagine myself going through the day without smoking. It was an addiction but I didn’t see it like that. I enjoyed smoking. I liked the flavour and the sociable aspect of it, as it was a lot more sociable years ago.

‘‘By the time I reached fifth year I was smoking 20 a day, though at weekends, that probably went up to 40 a day if I was having a drink. I never really thought about the detrimental effects it could be having on my health. Of course I’d seen the anti-smoking ads and the warnings on the packets but I was addicted, so I turned a blind eye.

‘‘Then in 2009 I just got fed up with smoking and decided to quit. I managed to stop for a year. But I wasn’t in the right mind-set to stop. I put on five stone because my appetite increased and I was eating more food in place of the cigarettes. I remember being on a skiing holiday and we were in an Austrian hotel. People were smoking around me and I could smell it, so I went out and bought myself a packet of cigarettes. I also remember leaning over to tie my ski boots and not being able to reach down because I’d put on so much weight. That also influenced my decision to go out and buy the cigarettes. Within six months I was back to my normal size again.

‘‘I know now that it was all down to the way I approached giving up smoking. The second time I quit, my thought process was completely different and I had the help of a great book, The Easy Way To Stop Smoking by Allen Carr. It sets you up psychologically for success by telling you it’s not difficult to stop smoking. The marketing around smoking may not be visual now but there’s still a lot of hype around stopping and smokers are led to believe that it’s really tough to quit. One you realise this isn’t the case, it becomes easier. He also compares smoking to putting your lips on an exhaust pipe and inhaling, which is basically what you’re doing, just a different context. ‘‘The toughest part of quitting is up until day three but by day 21 you’re no longer addicted. That’s only three weeks out of your life. When you think about it like that, it makes it a lot easier. I’d quit smoking by the time I’d finished the book. People fear giving up but it’s all down to you having the right mind-set. I haven’t smoked since, not even one.

The other thing that really helped me was the Android app QuitNow! Pro, which tells you the date you stopped, the money you’ve saved and the health benefits. I’ve saved £13,900 from stopping smoking! And when it comes to health benefits, I’m now 100% on all of them, bar lung cancer but I’m 67% of the way to being the same as a non-smoker when it comes to the risk of developing lung cancer.

Of course, Jason says when it comes to giving up cigarettes, everyone is different.

‘‘What works for some may not work for others, but anyone looking for advice on how to quit should look up Cancer Focus NI’s website cancerfocusni.org/cancer-prevention/smoking/.’’