In which I reach day 251 of not smoking, not that I’m counting the days or anything.

Breaking That Special Habit

1132 words about health — 12:12 · 1st Jun 2013

Today marks the 251st day I have gone without smoking. Hurray and for me and whatnot, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about what actually motivated me. And more importantly what didn’t.

I still remember — as I imagine all smokers do — my first cigarette and the complete lack of — at least for me — peer-pressure that was involved. No one forced me or encouraged me to have that first cigarette. I was curios. It was available. Done. First cigarette.

Oh that beautiful toxic burn, deep within my lungs. That disorienting high of those early cigarettes. What’s not to like? Yeah sure, we all know it’s bad for you — even lethal — but when in the History of the Human Race has that ever stopped anyone from doing anything? No, didn’t think so. Things that are lethal have a habit of intriguing us even more. I think it relates to our inability to comprehend large numbers and statistics. We would all like to think that we’re special, and not less than a standard deviation from the mean in a bell curve.

And of course I knew cigarettes and smoking was bad for me. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know that. Though some court cases in American suggests otherwise. I think those people were simply in denial and once they got cancer they couldn’t hold on to that denial anymore. It’s amazing what denial can do. So…we all know cigarettes are bad, right? Didn’t make one millimetre of a difference to me. Curiosity + Availability = Life-long addiction.

Life-long addiction? For life?

Sure, I’ve gone 251 days without smoking but I would be delusional to think that I’ve broken the addiction. As far as I’m concerned, my addiction and I have a relationship that ignores the boundaries set by something as mundane as to whether I am currently smoking or not. I have an addictive body chemistry. One that I suspect I’ve inherited from my late father. Even now, as I write this, I can vividly remember that wonderful toxic burn in a nostalgic way and I’m sure my amygdala is lighting up like a Christmas tree, having teamed up with the nucleus accumbens to fight my prefrontal cortex. For 251 days my prefrontal cortex has been winning. But that might not always be the case.

An old wrinkly man smoking a pipe.
Like this. But even more awesome-er.

Which is exactly why I promised myself I could start smoking a pipe when I turn 77. Aside for imaging myself as the kind of person who smokes a pipe —why not? — I am essentially trying to trick my nucleus accumbens that as long as it listens to my prefrontal cortex, it can have its reward. It just has to wait until I’m 77. I’m not depriving myself of anything, I’m simply prolonging the build up until the payout. Like I said, denial is pretty amazing. It makes sense to me and has worked surprisingly well so far.

Unlike some other things that don’t seem to make any difference whatsoever.

People — including my mother — has always been very keen to point of the health benefits of not smoking but what those people always fail to understand is that… if it didn’t matter back when I started smoking — knowing full well how dangerous it is — why would it matter now? The answer of course is that it doesn’t. Unless there’s some immediate health problem, that is fucking my life right now, I’m not going to care about some possible health problem, in a possible future. Remember what I said about how we all like to “think that we’re special”. I too, would like to think that I’m special. Even though I know — for a fact — that I’m statistically unlikely to be special. Sadly, that’s just how statistics work.

A cheap electronic cigarette lying next to a Colt lighter.
The things I have left. There to remind me where I once was.

But perhaps you could be motivated by health benefits? If so I would never dream of stopping you from having that as a motivator and in fact… here’s some of the benefits1 you receive after a given time of having stopped smoking. Though I suppose it should be noted that these apply to quitting cold turkey as I did and I can’t speak for the validity of this data for those who have/are using other methods of cessation.

1 minute

Panic strikes as you realise that this incredible Stick Of Death you have been inhaling for years is no longer going to be your source of comfort and calm when shit gets difficult.

20 minutes

Blood pressure and heart rate decrease.

12 hours

Carbon monoxide levels in the blood decrease to normal.

48 hours

Nerve endings and sense of smell and taste both start recovering.

48 hours and 1 minute

You are struck by the overwhelming beauty of scents that nature has to offer, such as blossoming cherry trees. Also, the smell of dog shit.

3 months

Circulation and lung function improve.

Currently at 251 days, or 8 months and 9 days.

9 months

Coughing, wheezing and breathing problems decrease.

1 year

The risk of coronary heart disease is cut in half.

5 years

The risk of stroke falls to the same as a non-smoker, and the risks of many cancers decrease significantly.

5 years and 1 minute

You suffer from your first stroke but as you walk towards the light you smile, knowing that at least it wasn’t because you smoked.

10 years

The risk of dying from lung cancer is cut in half, and the risks of larynx and pancreas cancers decrease.

15 years

The risk of coronary heart disease drops to the level of a non-smoker; lowered risk for developing COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Likewise, money has never been a great motivator for me. I’m sure it works excellently for some, and if you’re one of those people then you should embrace that extrinsic motivator. Anything that helps, right? For me? Not so much. Though I do always find it very interesting to look at how much money I’ve spent elsewhere — or in some cases, saved — by not smoking.

So how much have I spent elsewhere so far?

£1365.44, which is actually quite a lot of money. And it hasn’t even been a year yet.

Or looking at all of this from my nucleus accumbens’ point of view. Only 17547 days left until I can have that wonderful pipe.

  1. Stuff made up by your truly and also researched by The American Cancer Society

You’ve just read Breaking That Special Habit.

In which, 9 years ago, I wrote 1132 words about health and I covered topics, such as: smoking cessation.