Updated: Feb 25
By Pippa Starr
25 February 2021
Quitting smoking is an arduous task and one that is massively misunderstood and quite often embroiled in a hell of a lot of misunderstanding.
There are some that say it’s easy, just quit! If it was that easy, there would there be far less than the around 100 million people that died prematurely from smoking last century, and it’s now projected to get 10 times worse by hitting 1 Billion deaths by the end of the 21st century!
Firstly, let’s respect that while we are all individuals and cope with things in our own ways and we as humans have slightly different responses in our brains when it comes quitting smoking cold turkey attempts, we are often very similar in the way we deal with things like this and how we get through smoking withdrawal ie. if you are unlucky enough to have experienced this.
What would I know?
I have been there too many times. You know smoking is bloody bad for you, you wheeze, your cough sounds like an old car that won’t start and your overall fitness feels awful.
I had countless cold turkey quitting attempts, each time this was it, I’m definitely quitting this time. This would often last for around a day or up to a week.
One of my best efforts was just over 2 years. Wait what, 2 years?
It seems insane to the naive why anyone would be able to stop smoking for more than a week let alone 2 years, only to start again.
Along with each quit attempt there would be a goal to focus on to try and take the mind away from having a pang for a cigarette. Those goals varied from fitness to financial to quite simply having a will to want to not die painfully with lung cancer as my grandfather did or not die from severe heart disease as my grandmother did as a result of a lifetime of smoking.
There were literally over 100 times I would quit for a day or half a day and give in to the devil on my shoulder so to speak. What is that devil on your shoulder?
Is it really a thing?
It is! It’s your neurological pathways screaming for help along with your body screaming for more dopamine to help you feel normal again once you get the next hit off your chemical laced cigarette.
That’s why smokers who try and quit often feel nauseous and/or kind of empty and irritable. This can last for days, weeks, months, and even years!
Hence a “reformed smoker” is born.
You know them, they are the ones that preach from the highest pulpit with comments like “you just have to get past the first week”, “you stink, you smell”, “you’re going to die early if you don’t stop now”!
Smokers often fight with the addiction, it’s like a chemical lasoo that you can’t seem to fight off that makes you feel like punching that “reformed smoker” in the face.
I had an insight into what goes on in the brain of reformed smokers minds during the just over 2 year period I “quit for good but couldn’t” period. I would find myself saying things to peers like “yes I’ve quit, but don’t worry I’m not going to turn into one of those reformed extremists, we all quit in our own time” and similar near the beginning.
As time goes on you know each and every day you secretly feel like a cigarette, but you don’t voice this to those around you. Instead to compensate, when ever one talks about smoking you begin turning into that “reformed smoker” rhetoric that used to irritate you when you were smoking. I found my self saying things like “just get through the first week, it get’s easier after that”, “you know it’s going to to kill you, right”, “you can quit cold turkey, it’s so easy even I did it!”.
Meanwhile the more you find your self being that person, you know you are lying your arse off!
Most days I went without a cigarette over that period I would crave for one at some point, even at around the 2 year mark. Sure, some days were easier than others but more often than not I would struggle, especially at times when there were social drinks and life stresses.
I went to extreme measures over that period. I would stop alcohol and coffee to avoid that smoking association. I would even find myself returning to a sport that I nearly went professional in 10 years prior to avoid smoking. I could of nearly went professional again.
However, I hit a high mark of stress in my life as I went through a divorce to find myself finally caving into those pesky cigarettes. Any ambitions for a late in my 20’s professional sports comeback were smashed. At the time I didn’t care, I had my two good ole amigos nicotine and alcohol to help me get through.
I was shamed at work and at a personal level as I fell off the wagon after becoming that “reformed smoker” that was fast becoming that preachy person that was lucky to keep my face intact.
As life went on, I learned something about not only myself but about other “preachy reformed smokers” that hadn’t fallen off the wagon. I could see a pattern.
Each person I would come across that would be fiercely against smoking, I would learn that they were also “reformed smokers”.
It was a rare situation that a never smoker would be as preachy about the harms of smoking and offer snide comments about you smelling of cigarettes and you’re going to die ect.
The “cold turkey” withdrawl sufferers were the biggest and loudest evangelists!
It’s like when you hear heterosexual guys vehemently oppose gay guys, saying things like it’s just unnatural ect, later to find that they were actually saying that because they were in denial that they were in fact gay or bi themselves.
The point being those “reformed smoker evangelists”, more often than not are absolutely hanging to cave into having a cigarette. You only have to get talking to a few of them to learn this. I found over time that the longer a “reformed smoker” would live with the daily frustration of not having a cigarette as years went by, it was quite often the case that they were the ones screaming the loudest anti-smoking rhetoric.
After I fell off the wagon at nearly 30 years young, I smoked like a chimney and was a solid binge drinker till I found something that literally changed my health and my life.
I found vaping with nicotine. I was around 40 when I first come across it but was turned off by misinformation about it until a work colleague re-introduced me properly to it around 5 years ago.
From the moment I had my first vape it only took me a few weeks to finally ditch the cigarettes, once and for all! It was ridiculously easy once I found the right setup and advice. However, I came to learn quickly that there were a bunch of extreme anti-smoking evangelists that would be against vaping. But Why?
Arguably Australia’s loudest and proudest anti-smoking/anti-vaping extremist - evangelist is Simon Chapman. Surprise, surprise he’s an ex-smoker!
One of those reformed smokers, but with around 40 years of “cold turkey” frustration, he has become an anti-vaping/anti-smoking extremist of epic proportions!
My theory is the feeling of him wanting a cigarette quite often for such a long time along with him literally putting himself under the spotlight on this issue for that long must have some frustrations with compound interest!
The “reformed smoker” usually denies this when asked.
Now I have made a lot of massive generalisations here based only on my anecdotal experience and those I have spoken to. While I respect, we are all different, I have come to also learn that human behavior around addiction is very similar in a lot of ways, but we treat denial of most issues in similar ways.
So what’s wrong with being an anti-smoking evangelist?
Nothing at all as long as you can be fair, sympathetic or as an ex-smoker you can be empathetic.
To be clear, Simon Chapman has built himself a career on being an anti-smoking evangelist and has some done some great things, however over the last 10 years some of his work has been in my opinion, downright cruel and extremely non-empathetic.
He should know, of all people how difficult it really is to stop smoking but instead denies that it is. His rhetoric that “cold turkey” is the only and best way to stop smoking has possibly and potentially caused many to keep smoking.
Smokers need an empathetic approach.
In the last 17 years vaping with nicotine has grown into the most widely sort after and effective method to quit smoking. While it isn’t 100% safer than smoking, it’s a dam sight safer than smoking and so far has reached over 60 million people across our great planet to get off the smokes.
The very highly respected organisation that originally screamed the loudest about the real science of the harms of smoking being Public Health England and Royal College of physicians agree vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking.
Yet our old “reformed smoker” evangelist Simon says no!
It should be stopped at every corner until we know vaping is 100% safe.
It has been 17 years with a huge amount of scientific data and research and not one person has shown a shred of evidence of any death, cancer, or disease caused from vaping with nicotine.
So why is he against it or any other person, be it a “reformed smoker” or otherwise. Why would anyone be against this amazing technology that has assisted tens of millions of smokers to quit smoking for good and feel healthier than they have in years as I have?
Is it money? Is it pride? Is it because they are in the closet secretly wanting a cigarette themselves?
I think it could be a combination of all of this.
Regardless, I think an important piece of research that needs to be done fast is how to get ex-smoking evangelists like this out of the closet and having real conversations with people rather than blocking those who oppose their views, because otherwise no one can benefit!
The psychology of smoking is a powerful thing and it is the biggest hurdle that we as a society must get over to truly have a chance to finally beat the smoking pandemic that killed 24x times more Australians than Covid19 last year.
But first it’s time to come out of the closet!
Simon? Will You Come Out?
Note: This an opinion piece. If you find yourself directly effected please seek medical advice.