August 30th 2009 is a date which will live in infamy. Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone. In fact, go and check that the clock hasn't struck thirteen.
Now I know that Sky didn't report it as breaking news and it wasn't in any national or regional newspaper reports but that is the day that I finally gave up smoking.
Just inhale the facts for a moment.
Every single day for, unbelievably, the last quarter of a century I have smoked. 20 cigarettes a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for 25 years. Whether at work, rest or play, in good or ill health, I've consumed over 182,500 cigarettes. At this point, armed with those facts, I would normally stop for a smoke and a ponder, but I no longer have a desire to add to the 11 miles or so of cigarettes that I have burnt into my life – nicotine, it seems, also dulls the compulsive/obsessive part of your brain. Bear with me as I become more irritable and boring in equal smoke-free measures, spouting random cigarette facts.
Fags, tabs, smerks and snout, roll-ups, dog-ends, butts and drags are all destined to fade from the memory like the smoke that is hacking its way loose from my lungs right now.
For the time being it is a purely economical decision to stop burning my money. £170 per month at the last count. Over £2000 per year. Have you any idea what that sort of money can buy? Well, a packet of cigarettes per day, more if I rolled my own. It seems my mind has not completely banished the memory even if I'm no longer physically dependent.
I've had help from the Local Friendly Pharmacist. You have to fill out form after form and blow into a carbon monoxide tester to be prescribed any anti-smoking measures nowadays. It's changed a bit from the last time I tried quitting many years ago.
I wonder where the budgie went.
The Local Friendly Pharmacist asked me what anti-smoking measure I would like to try. I said I'd opt for the “Carry on smoking loads and have a heart and lung transplant at 60,” choice. He did check his list for a micro-second before nervously informing me that it wasn't an option.
“Have you tried Champix?” the LFP asked.
“No, what's that?” I said, thinking it might be a posh health farm.
“It's a very good anti-smoking tablet that works in most cases”
“Most?” I queried
“Well there is a very small link to suicides in a very small number of cases…are you pre-disposed to depression at all?”
“Well I wasn't until I decided to give up cigarettes and you told me that”
We decided on an alternate course of treatment.
The carbon monoxide tester was brought out and the LFP asked me to blow into it “like you do in a breathalyser.” I had never been breathalysed but the LFP seemed to think I had and I'd seen enough episodes of The Bill to blag it. Once I'd blown into it he read it. A puzzled expression came over his face. That's not good I thought. Perhaps I've no air left in my lungs. Perhaps it's all carbon monoxide now. I've innards like central London on Monday morning. I'm doomed! He went away and came back with another tester. Unwrapping it I repeated the procedure. Same puzzled expression from the LFP.
“You smoke 20 cigarettes per day?”
“Yes, well, not from now, hopefully, what's wrong? Are my lungs like the ones on the back of the packets of cigarettes?”
“Not at all” said the LFP, “both carbon monoxide testers show you have the readings and lung capacity of a very light smoker, almost a non-smoker.”
Surprise and relief came over me. 25 years of smoking had done relatively little damage to two of my organs anyway. I just hoped that my liver was listening. Result.
I left the pharmacy with enough nicotine gum to stick up a bank and enough nicotine cartridges to add considerably to my 11 mile record. What I didn't arrive home with for the first time since the mid 1980s was a packet of fags. I felt good, determined, yet strangely bereft. Aren't the smokers generally also the drinkers? The wheezy Bon Viveurs? Am I to be consigned to pressing my face up to the pub window whilst everyone else goes outside for a puff and a real natter, left on my own to do bizarre calculations regarding cigarette length and cost during the past three decades? It didn't sound like the rosy smoke-free future the adverts had promised. Sure, I wouldn't have carbon monoxide, at any levels, floating around the bloodstream. The risk of a heart attack will reduce significantly, to that of someone who has never smoked, apparently, by the time I'm 56, and even my skin should somehow regain some colour and lose some wrinkles. Being half-Scottish I've never been blessed with a healthy pallor, but I suppose if I stopped looking like I'd done a 20 stretch in Belmarsh solitary it can only be a good thing.
Now, over two weeks later, I have added not one cigarette to the 182,500 that have previously passed my lips. It stops at 11 miles.
Of course when I now go down my local drinking hole they all go outside for a real natter and a puff and I am left with my gum, cartridges and maths. And yes, I still think about cigarettes, but not all the time. Nobody has died from merely thinking about cigarettes have they? Yeah, it’s OK to window-smoke.