Quitting Smoking: A guide for the cynical student

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So, smoking sucks.

It’s also great, and I miss it so much.

It eats away at your bank account, yellows your teeth, gives you bad breath, lung cancer, mouth cancer, throat cancer, etc., etc. You know this side of the argument.

It also feels great. I miss the mannerisms; I miss rolling, the careful sprinkling of baccy, even lighting it and cupping it against the wind, holding it between my fingers, sucking in a breath, watching the smoke twirl in the air. I miss the routine of going outside, of chatting to smokers.

I started smoking when I was 12. At 14, they tested me for asthma. At 15, I decided to quit – and have been deciding ever since, to varying degrees of success.

The tried and tested cold turkey method was my go-to. I developed an intolerance quickly and, for a long time, couldn’t even smell tobacco without feeling nauseous. For a year, I was smoke-free. Then, my drunk alter-ego realised the intolerance couldn’t make it past three Jägerbombs, and I started drunk-smoking. I spent another two years practising how to say “no” when someone offered me a cigarette in a beer garden and spent most of that time following my advice poorly. Since coming to university, cigarettes have been more accessible than ever, and my drunk smoking has been creeping up the charts.

The truth is – smoking is hard to quit for everyone, and this deters a lot of people from trying. The media has glorified the willpower method, and smokers trying to stop are discouraged by their lack of success. But only 3 – 5% of smokers quit through willpower alone, according to Quit with Help.

Sidestepping the romanticised willpower method, I came up with a series of strategies for students:

Identify your smoking patterns

If you usually smoke in the morning when you wake up, do something else immediately – go for a run, cook a bigger breakfast, write a to-do list for the day. If you usually smoke on nights out, do something else – order some food, dance, chat to friends.

Change the place 

If you go outside to smoke, spend your time inside when you would usually smoke. I used to have my flatmates hide my shoes and coat, so I couldn’t smoke outside without shivering too hard to light the cigarette.

Substitute

Nicotine substitutes (patches, gum, e-cigarettes) can curb the addiction and be used to wean yourself off gradually. Oral alternatives (eating a carrot, celery sticks, or lollipops; chewing gum, mints, or toothpicks) can satisfy the need to be holding something or having a cigarette in your mouth.

On the NHS, there are three medications available on prescription: Champix and Zyban tablets, and nicotine replacement therapies (patches, gum, lozenges, microtabs, inhalators, and nasal sprays). Talk to your GP about your options and, if you have less than £16,000 in savings, apply for a HC2 Certificate to be entitled to free prescriptions, sight tests, and dental treatment.

Handling Withdrawal

This is a crucial aspect of quitting smoking. Expect headaches, nausea, irritability, depressive symptoms, low energy, food cravings, sore throat, and dry mouth. This will pass – be patient and stock up on some self-care (think ice-cream and me-time).

Reward Yourself!

Create a calendar or chart to track your progress. At week one without a cigarette, treat yourself to a gift card, a nice meal, or a trip out. Do the same at two weeks, one month, two months, five months, until you’re treating yourself to a big present for every year smoke-free.

So, smoking sucks.

That’s it. 

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