I took my first puff on a cigarette before puberty had even reared its ugly head. At the age of 11, I was camping in the garden with a family friend when I begged him to let me try one of the cigs he kept carefully hidden from his parents. As I took my first drag, I felt like the coolest pre-teen in the world.
What I didn’t know was that I had just given in to an addiction that would haunt my lungs for the next 15 years.
Now, with lockdown keeping us all sequestered in our homes, I have decided that this is the perfect time to finally rid myself of a toxic habit that has been my near-constant companion for more than half of my life – though I am conscious of falling into the trap of filling self-isolation with punishing self-improvement practices.
But first, back to that first drag – and how I began to take every chance I could to steal one from a friend or from my grandma’s secret packet, which she still denies existed.
When I moved schools at 14, I found a steady supply, and swiftly became a heavy smoker, joining the 12 per cent of 11-15-year-olds in 2010 who smoked regularly.
By the time I finished my A-Levels, I was sucking down 20 cigarettes’ worth of nicotine every day and, on days I worked at a pub, it topped 30. As my smoker’s cough took a firm hold, I often felt conscious of my lack of self control.
Attempting to quit was a regular occurrence; I tried everything from gum to nicotine patches, but nothing worked. In high school, friends even sent gross imagery to demonstrate the damage that I was doing to myself internally.
After trying to give up multiple times in school, I tried again with a doctor’s help while in sixth form, but the smoking area kept calling my name and having a cigarette in hand became a social crutch whenever I felt awkward. When I started working at the pub, I found that going out for a cigarette was the only way I got a break, so it spurred me even more to keep the habit.
When university rolled around, I managed to cut down and only smoked socially, but I could never quite stop completely. Every party and beer garden became another excuse to light up and, no matter how frugally I rolled, my bank balance remained depleted by my addiction.
I often spent £15 a week on cigarettes, which amounted to nearly £800 a year. Thinking back to when I was a full-time smoker, I can’t even begin to imagine how much of my money went on cigarettes.
Although my daily count had lowered, I have to admit I loved smoking and I simply did not want to give it up because I enjoyed it.
It relaxed me more than any meditation technique and I didn’t care about the hole it was burning in my pocket when it was helping to manage stress and keeping anxiety at bay.
Over the last couple of years, the habit has been relatively controlled, but then lockdown began and smoking became a consistent crutch again – until I ran out of tobacco at the start of April.
When I saw those final dregs go up in flames, I realised that I could not excuse an excursion for a new packet without also buying necessities that I didn’t need. I had run out of excuses not to give up.
It’s been almost three weeks now and I have fought off the near-constant cravings, and the finger-twitching by working out every day and filling my time with writing and games to distract from the yearning for nicotine.
I’m not using any specific supplements to help me quit, but I am chewing gum constantly and I’m finding myself twirling pens, matches and cooking utensils in my hand whenever the cravings hit hard.
It’s been lovely to remember what smoke-free lungs feel like. Admittedly, friends and family have questioned the logic of trying to quit a stress-reducing habit during one of the most pressured periods in recent history, but considering I have no excuse to go out and buy them, and the fact I have less money due to loss of work, to me, the timing is perfect.
Research also indicates that being a smoker increases the risk of death after contracting coronavirus, so I am doubly motivated to ditch the smokes, even with the added stress of withdrawal.