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Reporter's column - Gabriel's Gripes



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February 29, 2012 - In two days, I'll have eschewed cigarettes from my life for eight months straight.

It wasn't easy, as some would have you believe. I searched for quitting methods for years before and from gum to patches the simple fact was that I didn't really want to stop. I finally found my solution in the form of a book, though this method involved quitting cold turkey.

As attempted ex-smokers can attest - this is one of the hardest acts someone can attempt. Through all the shakes, nerves, irritability, spontaneous anger and the feeling of my brain being wrapped in a scalding hot towel, I managed to stay strong. I'm as proud of quitting as I am ashamed I even started smoking.

I often hear vehement anti-smokers, whom I still despise by the way, say to smokers "why don't you just quit," or "it's easy; just don't buy another pack." I've thought about it and the closest I can come to comparing the the feeling of agony that comes with nicotine withdrawal is having to use the bathroom badly. You fight the pain with your mind and try to reassure yourself it will go away.

But it doesn't. It may subside here and there, but it always comes back, bigger and meaner than before. When presented the opportunity to cure the pain, you jump at the chance - even running to get to the solution quicker - you rip open the packet, bite down on one of the butts smelling the intoxicating aroma of death, put the flame to the end of the tobacco and inhale what feels like utter bliss.

It really does feel that bad when you've gone a long period without a cigarette and it really does feel that good when you get to smoke again.

The first two weeks, as they say, are the worst. What they don't say is the craving never really goes away - to this day when I see a cigarette some small part of me remembers the good times when I was smoking. Smoking is a social thing and when your colleagues and comrades continue it can be that much harder to put the carton down. I'm stronger now, of course, but the want is still there and I doubt I will ever not want another smoke deep down.

I cannot, though, have even one. One of the principles learned in the book I read convinced me that even casual smokers (those that smoke only while drinking or in other specific situations) are addicted and I'm done with that part of my life. Yet while it might sound as if it's will that keeps me from having even one, it is in fact fear. I'm scared that one will trigger that same great feeling, only magnified ten fold, and I'll be back to buying a pack a day.

I ended a little broad here, but the points I'm trying to get across is that it is not easy, and those that smoke almost inevitably hate the fact that they do. It sucks having that craving, the crumby breath, having to pay increasingly ludicrous prices and coping with the multitude of symptoms brought on by smoking - most of which you often don't hear. It's not only shortness of breath and lack of stamina; it also includes lack of energy brought on by constricted blood vessels, yellowed teeth high blood pressure and more.

So if you have a smoker in your life that you care about, tolerate their poor decision - they know they've made one. Don't encourage it by any means - discourage it positively. Don't accuse them of making everyones life miserable try to understand how hard it actually is and offer support if they make the decision to quit. Don't be belligerent if they fail either, just be there for them when they need your help.

Most militant smokers don't' start that way - they get there by feeling ostracized and patronized. The best way to get a smoker to continue to smoke is to talk down to them.

By the way, the book is called Alan Carr's The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. Good luck quitters.

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