If you’re considering giving up smoking, a good day to do it on would be today, the 11th of March, which is “No Smoking Day”. A study carried out in 2009 showed that one in ten smokers gave up on No Smoking Day, and a million people get involved with it in the UK, so we can say it has an impact.
Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances on the planet, more addictive than heroin and cocaine. It can reach your brain within 8 seconds of lighting up a cigarette. There are about 4 000 chemicals in a cigarette, 69 of which can cause cancer, but the one chemical that hooks people is nicotine.
Patients are still allowed to smoke at Castle Craig Hospital, where I work as a nurse. People come here to treat their drug and alcohol addictions and there is a feeling that cigarettes is all they have to hang onto. My own view is that many of our patients would have smoked when they were taking drugs and so surely smoking when in treatment would remind them of those times?
I first smoked when I was 12 years old. I started because my parents smoked, my friends smoked and it was a cool thing to do. I was doing it in the days before we got this idea that smoking might not be that good for you. I have an ad for “Craven A” cigarettes from a 1937 copy of the Nursing Times which actually says that smoking is good for you. This is incredible considering what we know now.
By 1966 we were starting to get the idea that smoking perhaps wasn’t that good for us and they started to make the connections with lung cancer and heart disease. But the government has always had a huge financial stake in the tobacco industry; around the time of the First World War the government had a lot of shares in the industry and even nowadays they rely on tobacco sales for tax income. Cigarettes cost about £8 a packed in the UK and about half of that goes straight to the taxman.
I smoked for 18 years and by the end I was getting through two packets a day. How did I give up? My wife came home one day and said “we’re stopping smoking.” I was a bit taken aback but she gave me a little packet of four cigarette holders and said “the first one will take out 30% of the tar from the cigarettes, the second will remove 60%, the third removes 70% and the last filter will remove 80%.”
Before I finished the last filter I didn’t want another cigarette again. I had given up but my wife didn’t manage to and I have asked myself ever since how I managed to do it. I came up with three answers: first of all they were costing me a fortune; secondly I didn’t want my daughter to smoke – one of the major reasons I smoked was because my parents did. The final reason was that I had to clean out the tar from the little cigarette holder after every couple of cigarettes and it used to make me sick. I would ask myself why I was putting that black muck into my lungs.
At Castle Craig I regularly give a talk to patients about the risks involved, present them with strategies for giving up and facilitate a Smoking Cessation Group. The facts are terrifying: 84% of lung cancer victims are caused by smoking and one in seven heart disease cases are caused by smoking. The major problem with smoking is that all those chemicals get to every part of the body, blood pressure is increased and it can cause a whole host of diseases.
Some people say that passive smoking is even more dangerous than smoking itself. If a non-smoker is sitting by a smoker he or she can inhale of the smoker’s fumes and their chance of heart disease or a serious lung disorder increase by 25%. Some people say that e-cigarettes are a useful way of getting people off cigarettes but there’s a lot of controversy around that claim and the truth is that we just don’t know what the long term health effects of e-cigarettes will be.
After each Smoking Cessation Group I remind people that they must make a plan, they need to set a target date for giving up. They need that focus. I ask people to decide on a date, state it to the group and this becomes a form of commitment. This needs to be done at least a week in advance so that the idea of giving up gets into the subconscious and feels more natural.
If people want to use No Smoking Day as their target day to give up smoking that is fine, and it might get some of the other smokers also thinking a bit about what they’re doing to themselves.