I have been a nicotine fiend ever since I smoked my first cigarette at the age of 14, perched on some steps during my school lunch break. It tasted disgusting but I persevered and soon I was hooked. I must have looked like some kind of Dickensian urchin, trailing around north London in my school uniform puffing on a ciggie.
And boy, did I love to smoke. It was great fun for a while. I happily trooped into the pens outside nightclubs and pubs where the smokers were held. Smoking was a group activity back then. I swapped white-and-gold packets of Marlboro Lights for the more cost-efficient squishy green pouches of Golden Virginia tobacco. My best friend and I chain-smoked rollies until our flat reeked and the ashtray overflowed.
After university, things began to change. Fewer people flocked to the smoking pen with me. One by one, friends kicked the habit. But I was a determined smoker. I started the day with a cigarette and I ended it with one. Smoking was like breathing to me. It was inconceivable that one day I might stop.
When I moved to New York and discovered how smokers are shunned in that city, I swapped cigs for their modern counterpart, the vape. I soon noticed the benefits of a Juul loaded with nicotine. It didn’t stink. I could smoke it anywhere. I puffed away in the office, at home, in restaurants, shops, even under a blanket on an aeroplane.
I switched the Juul for a peach ice flavour Elf Bar and was soon getting through one a day, shelling out £225 a month on my habit. I developed a charming respiratory problem that I called “the lung crackle” – a disconcerting rattling wheeze as I inhaled.
Despite the cost and the health issues, I was dependent. I wasn’t puffing away because I wanted to; I was puffing away because I needed to. I locked myself in the loo just to puff in peace. Heaven was lying in bed, alone, vaping and scrolling on my phone. I started to feel ashamed that the e-cigarette was, as a friend put it, surgically attached to my hand; I was embarrassed by the collection of almost dead devices cluttering my bedside table.
But even thinking I could quit seemed audacious. I had tried before. I went to an NHS nurse when I was 16. I saw a hypnotherapist in my mid-20s. I switched to chomping nicotine gum for a couple of years, a lump constantly wedged between my teeth and the inside of my cheek, releasing sweet nicotine. These attempts either failed or simply saw me exchange one nicotine product for another.
But I started to see glimmers of hope. A friend who I considered to be almost as serious a vaper as me had managed 86 days off hers. Another friend told me how she had given up cigarettes for 18 months by reading Allen Carr’s book Easy Way to Quit Smoking.
I dared to believe that I could, perhaps, quit nicotine. I bought the vaping version of the book and read it in a couple of days. It works by dismantling any belief you have that vaping is a pleasurable or helpful activity – for example, the notion that it helps you concentrate or that it calms you in stressful situations. Quitting is reframed as a purely positive no-brainer and, what’s more, an easy thing to do, instead of the torturous deprivation that I feared.
The book was boring and repetitive but it worked some kind of sorcery because I obediently puffed my last vape – you are encouraged to vape as you read – threw it in the bin, and somehow I have been nicotine-free for an astounding 402 days. This is the first time in 20 years that I have not been ingesting some form of nicotine on a daily basis.
I was on edge the first week with withdrawal, but it was mild and passed in a matter of days. Now I can be around vapers and feel no temptation to pluck the device out of their hands and have a puff. I look back in wonderment at how I used to live my life – continually popping to the shop for a fresh vape, tucking the device into my bra to walk across the office, trekking miles to the only newsagent open on Christmas Day to get my fix. My mind boggles at the sheer logistics of addiction, yet I also feel a sneaking admiration for such determination.
I occasionally have a craving, usually when I’m bored or frustrated; I’ll feel a twitch in my fingers and a desire for a quick hit. But it passes and is in no way the debilitating yearning I experienced during my previous attempts to quit. I assume that by stopping I’ve added years to my life, but it’s not the health benefits I consider, or the money I’ve saved. I’m just relieved to be free from the tyranny of the vape. How fabulous to live my life without a damn device forever in my hand.
Source of data and images: theguardian