While purely anecdotal, I have often heard people say that after giving up smoking they contracted various illnesses and ailments that never affected them when they smoked. Could it be that smoking wasn’t that bad for you after all? Yes, it destroyed the lungs but were there other benefits perhaps?

I was a smoker for twenty years and finally managed to give up on the 14th of January this year. I had been making attempts at giving up for years and having exhausted all the gimmicks and methods available I thought I was doomed to smoke forever.

Going cold turkey!

Finally I just decided to stop one day and went cold turkey. I had tried practically everything; the patches, the gum, the sublingual tabs and the inhaler. I tried cutting down gradually and when that failed I even tried smoking too many in one day, figuring that if I made myself really sick I would never want to touch a cigarette again. I tried hypnotherapy which was incredibly relaxing, but I lit up a cigarette the minute I got back to the car after the first session. I tried switching brands to menthol cigarettes and when I became overly fond of them I would switch back again to ordinary ones. For those close to me, my attempts at quitting were, sad to say, ugly at best. The lovely, cheerful person they knew would rapidly descend into black depression within hours of announcing I’d quit.

Tears and mutterings

This would be accompanied by tears and mutterings that my life would never be the same again without my little friend for comfort. The tears would turn to anger and things that usually never bothered me would become major bones of contention. Inevitably such torture and angst was unbearable to look at and it would conveniently prompt my significant other to say, “Oh just buy a packet of fags for God’s sake.” That was all I needed, permission to smoke and within minutes I’d be bounding down to the shop with a smile on my face like a true addict anticipating my next fix. It was because of all these awful experiences that my announcement on January 14th last was not greeted with whoops of support and encouragement, but rather a hesitant distrust and palpable fear. “Are you sure you want to do this?” was one indicative comment. This time though, I didn’t cry, I didn’t get angry and I didn’t try to kill anyone. In fact there was a tremendous easy calm attached and no drama.

Here’s the kicker!

However, here’s the kicker, while I’m still off them and happily so, my health is definitely in worse shape now than it was at the beginning of the year. However it is no longer a mystery as to why some people get ill in that first year of giving up. Looking back over the past 11 months I realise that by eliminating smoking it has caused a relatively large lifestyle change for me. While inhaling cigarette smoke of itself is clearly bad for you, there were things associated with my smoking habit that were working well for me. I ate less when I was a smoker. While I was never a waif and always loved my grub, it was easy not to eat cakes, buns, biscuits and chocolate. For every sugary snack someone had with a cup of coffee I would have a cigarette. I often skipped meals, keeping myself going on cigarettes and bottled water. Long before the smoking ban came into effect the habit had become quite antisocial and you would get up and go outside. There are calories burned and limbs exercised in such movement. When you stand around smoking in the cold you are burning more calories than when you are sitting down in the warmth.

More movement

As a smoker you pop in and out of shops more to buy cigarettes; more movement. Then there are the regular breaks. I was someone who book-ended tasks with cigarettes. “I’ll have a fag and then I’ll start.” While smoking the cigarette I thought about what I was about to do, but essentially I was stopping everything for that few minutes. When I completed a task I would have one in celebration and, if it was a long drawn out process, I might take a fag break in the middle. All of this while inevitably destroying my lungs, was creating those little breaks and downtimes that we all need to function well. I think it was Leonardo da Vinci that said, “Every now and then walk away from your work for a little while. When you come back to it you will have a clearer perspective.” As a smoker you are also more alert as you are constantly looking for opportunities to have a cigarette.

Eleven months down the line and while I no longer smoke I have never felt so unwell and unhealthy. My cholesterol is through the roof (that’s the biscuits and the chocolates), I have put on more weight than I care to mention and I have noticed that I am slightly more anxious than I ever was before. I am drinking more coffee and I wake up with heavy, painful legs (which I’m sure is the excess weight/the excess sugar/the excess caffeine – take your pick), my hips are stiff and creaky and I’m stuck at the fat end of my wardrobe; constantly choosing stretch jersey fabrics to cover my girth. Where’s the glowing health I was promised on giving up smoking? I’m not even sure that my sense of taste is any better. From where I stand I have just substituted potential lung cancer for other diseases and severe depression.

I am glad that I have managed to quit smoking for good, but now I have a whole host of other problems that require immediate attention. By all means, give up smoking but learn from my mistakes. Don’t substitute sugar and caffeine for nicotine and start doing extra exercise the minute you stop. In fact even better, don’t ever start smoking and you will never have to walk through this hell of giving up.