For many years, Big Tobacco has told us smoking is good for us and does not cause ill-health. Here, Vivek shares a surprising revelation from his wife which begins a new journey for Viv of self-determination and self-help.
In all the years that I indulged my smoking habit, despite occasional pangs of conscience, I never really gave much thought to my unnatural attachment to a weed. That is, not until my wife told me one morning that I stank.
The rule in our house was that our two children should make their own beds and tidy their rooms while my wife and I did ours. One morning, we had just changed the sheets on our bed when my wife said, “Do you know that you stink?” I was stunned. How could I possibly have body odour when I was in the habit of showering twice a day?
“It’s not body odour I’m talking about”, my wife replied. “It’s the smell of tobacco. It permeates your clothes and even our bedding. Look at the sheets and pillow cases we have just changed. The pillow cases and your side of the bed sheets are stained yellow. That’s nicotine that seeps from the pores of your skin.”
She was right. The yellowish stains and the smell of nicotine on my side of the bed were unmistakable.
The more I thought about what my wife had to say about my being smelly, the more it hurt. I could not bear to think that others, especially my wife, would find my odour offensive. Even though my wife was frank, she must have thought about it often before telling me.
I thought of all my other friends and colleagues who would not have dared to be as frank as my wife. For days afterwards, all I could think of while driving to work and at other solitary moments was of my smoking habit and how others might be disgusted and harmed by it.
That weekend I sat at my computer and wrote all the pros and cons of smoking I could think of in two separate lists. There were few advantages I could think of but an overwhelming number of disadvantages. Everything from the odour of nicotine on my clothes and body to the rooms in which I smoked was disgusting.
Then there were the effects on my body and general health. I was prone to shortness of breath, frequent colds and bronchitis and other respiratory problems. I thought of the negative effects on my heart, the threat of chest and throat cancer and most importantly, to the negative effects of my addiction on others. The more I thought about it, the longer the list grew.
I thought of my puerile reasons for having started smoking while still a teenager, of peer group competition and the need to appear grown-up to impress the girls and younger boys. I had to admit to myself that my cigarette was in many ways a psychological crutch. Being older and more mature than when I started, it hurt to think that I might have a psychological problem. I was more determined than ever to kick the habit once and for all.
Analysing how I had started smoking, I came to the conclusion that I was more psychologically addicted to the act of smoking than I was to tobacco itself. It occurred to me that I was actually attached to the “manly” motions of pulling out a pack of cigarettes and lighting up, like that famous actor did on screen when he had to mull over something. Yes, I had to admit that Hollywood had a lot to do with my anti-social habit.
The following week, I spoke with people who had stopped smoking and asked them what advantages they had experienced since breaking the habit. It astounded me that there were so many, from a social as well as the health point of view. Several people recalled how their health and feeling of general well-being improved when they stopped smoking, how their sense of smell became keener and how food tasted better. Others spoke of their heightened self-esteem and greater confidence after quitting. All these went into my pro and con lists.
By the next weekend, I had decided that I would stop smoking once and for all, but would do it in a structured way, with a carefully-thought out methodology taking both physiological as well as psychological points into consideration. I thought of physiological nicotine withdrawal symptoms and psychological counter-measures that some “experts” suggested, such as stocking up with fruit, sweets and anti-nicotine chewing gum.
It occurred to me that the addiction to smoking and nicotine was largely psychological, so I decided to pay special attention to auto-suggestion rather than to use more crutches like sweets and chewing gum.
The next step was to work out a methodology I could employ. I had decided that smoking was largely a psychological habit adopted in my impressionable, formative years. It needed a psychological counter-offensive to defeat it. I decided that wide publicity of my intentions would be the best tactic. In putting it into effect, I would brainwash myself.
The first step of was to print out my computer list of the minus points of smoking. Every morning I would pop this into my shirt pocket to read at free moments. I was determined to carry out my plan to the T.
The next step was to tell my immediate family of my intention to quit the smoking habit. I told my disbelieving wife and the children, then the maid and the neighbours, the corner shop lady and the gardener, then my work colleagues. I set the deadline to quit smoking on the last day of the month, a week hence, keeping in mind that the method I had decided on required wide publicity.
“At the end of this month, I will stop smoking completely”, I told all and sundry. I saw this as an integral aspect of my determination to stop smoking. Shout your intentions from the rooftops so that you would feel very silly to break your resolution.
At that time, my wife bought me a month’s supply of cigarettes when she went to the supermarket for groceries. When I announced my intention to stop, she asked somewhat ironically what to do with the unused packets should I really stop. I told her to take them back to the shop where she bought them for a refund. I could understand my wife’s scepticism: I had smoked heavily through all the years she had known me.
On the last day of the month, after dinner with my family, I opened a new packet of cigarettes and lit one with a flourish. Then I stamped it out ceremoniously in an ash tray after one dramatic puff while my wife and children watched. I said that I was parting company with the weed forever. My family looked bemused. Practical as always, my wife asked for the packet of cigarettes I had just opened.
“I’ll put it away because if I know you, tomorrow morning you’re likely to be hunting frantically for a smoke”, she said somewhat sardonically.
I did not hunt frantically for a cigarette the next morning. I would have looked like fool in front of my family if I did. In the smoke-filled office tea room later that morning, in keeping with the method I had decided on, I announced over a cup of tea to some forty colleagues that it was the first day of my no-smoking career. Although there were some encouraging remarks amidst the snide ones, some said they had also gone through a similar phase at some stage of their lives.
“There’s nothing to giving up smoking”, said the office wag, “I’ve done it dozens of times”.
I had no urge to smoke that first week. My determination not to make a fool of myself was greater than any urge to return to my foul habit. There were no withdrawal symptoms. On the contrary, it felt good to be able to keep to my resolution.
By the second week, I was starting to feel proud of my discipline and will-power. I still felt no nicotine withdrawal symptoms. By the third week, I was starting to dislike cigarette smoke. I left the office tea room immediately after tea each morning. By the fourth week, I was wondering how I could have been silly enough to have started such a disgusting habit.
One evening, my wife commented that I had lost my smell of nicotine. “What’s more, your eyes are clearer and there are no longer yellow stains on your fingers and teeth”, she said approvingly.
In the ensuing weeks, I started to experience everything people who had quit smoking had told me. Food was starting to taste better. I was able to climb stairs without panting, I lost my smoker’s cough. My pride in my achievement knew no bounds. It was good to know that I had the will power to kick an offensive habit.
Best of all, my respiratory problems started to disappear. For years, I had believed that my constitution made me susceptible to colds and bronchitis. Now I realised that it was smoking that had made me vulnerable. My health and my sense of well-being improved dramatically. My wife said that the changes were noticeable; I was less irritable and easier to get on with, and, of course, less smelly.
One morning while we were still in bed, my wife told me that there was another change that she had noticed of which I was probably not aware. “You no longer snore like you used to”, she said. “In fact, when I awoke during the course of last night, I realised that I could not hear you breathing. I became alarmed and put my ear close to your face. I was relieved to find that you were breathing very quietly.”
My snoring became a thing of the past as far as my wife was concerned. Throughout our marriage, she had often shaken me awake in the night to stop me snoring. Now, she said, she was often alarmed that I might have stopped breathing. Perhaps this was mainly because my respiratory passages, now free of the irritation of tobacco smoke, were also free of the excess mucous that aggravated snoring.
The improvements in my state of health were amazing. I had never realised just how unfit smoking had made me until I gave up the habit. Within six months, I could do things I had long forgotten, like running upstairs without becoming winded, walk and jog long distances and swim without tiring like I used to. I felt like a new person; my life seemed to be starting all over again. That state of well-being continued well into my mature years.
In the first few months after I had stopped, it never bothered me if others smoked near me. Yet after about a year, I developed a marked aversion to cigarette smoke. Now I do not hesitate to request that people do not smoke in my home or motor car. Before I retired, I put up a prominent “No Smoking” sign in red at the entrance to my office. I also requested colleagues to refrain from smoking at office meetings. I believe that every attempt should be made to demonise tobacco.
Smoking is a self-destructive habit and I cannot believe that I had been addicted to it. I feel ashamed to think I had seemed so callous and indifferent to the feelings of others. Here I am not talking only of the discomfort caused to others by one’s tobacco smoke. I am referring to the tobacco-related ailments passive smokers suffer because of the thoughtlessness some of smokers.
I recalled how a heavy-smoking colleague, a brilliant magazine photographer, had to have his tongue and larynx removed because of throat cancer. He lost his voice and was learning to talk all over again using his diaphragm when the cancer returned with a vengeance and he died in terrible pain. His young family was devastated.
Our families, especially wives and children, often suffer even more than we do when we have to face the ravages of ill-health in the form of tongue, throat and lung cancer and respiratory diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, not to mention heart attacks.
Even if one does not care about oneself, does anyone have the right to subject near and dear ones who have to witness our slow death to the pain that self-destruction invariably brings? Does this not smack of a callousness that would only serve to earn us more negative karma?
It never ceases to amaze me that the nicotine withdrawal symptoms endlessly hyped in the mainstream media never made their appearance when I abruptly stopped smoking. Perhaps in adopting my calculated method, I had brainwashed myself into dropping the habit painlessly.
Only then did I see that the so-called withdrawal symptoms and other difficulties associated with kicking the habit are the inventions of tobacco manufacturers themselves. They propagate these ideas through the media simply to psychologically brainwash addicts who want to drop the habit.
It did not take much to convince me that magazines and newspapers which, incidentally, are owned by the same handful of companies that also own the giant tobacco companies, quite intentionally brainwash consumers into believing that trying to give up smoking is painfully difficult when in fact it is not.
That was when I started to wonder what else they might be surreptitiously brainwashing us to do with the public media that they own. In the years after I stopped smoking so painlessly, the answer to that question came. It turned out to be a monster of enormous proportions that has now brought humankind and this fragile planet to the brink of annihilation. This is a shocking story in itself and will be discussed in future articles.
In my sixty-eighth year, I did something a teenager would do at thirteen or fourteen: I bought my first mountain bike and started to cycle again after a lifetime of motor vehicles. That was ten years ago and I still ride a mountain bike. This and a tobacco-free existence have done wonders for my health and even more for my self-esteem.
I owe much to the fact that when I saw the light some thirty years ago, instead of pulling out a cigarette to light up, I threw the pack away.
Love and light
Om Sai Ram