: I started smoking when I was in junior college, which was in an age where a JC student could go to the corner shop to buy cigarettes. In fact, I had a teacher in JC who’d ask me to get him a pack of Dunhills (Uncle cigarettes) while I got mine.
Then, you could get cigarettes in a small pack (10s) if some portion of your pocket money had to go towards buying food. At some mamak shops, you could even buy those sickly sweet clove kretek cigarettes by the stick.
For the most part, I “taxed” my father’s cigarettes from packets he left around the house. At a flat rate of 10%, he suspected but couldn’t confirm beyond doubt that I had started smoking – you can’t really smell cigarette smoke residue on someone else if you’re a smoker yourself. When he eventually found out I smoked, he was angry of course, and being the teenager that I was, I said I’d give up the smokes if he did the same. He quit. I stayed.
I became a really heavy smoker. There was nothing the anti-smoking campaigns could do to stop me. They banned smoking within buildings in Singapore sometime in the 1980s, and so we revelled in the unregulated hinterland of Johor Baru’s malls. They started putting health warnings on cigarette packets, but the message was never going to sink in. You could take out all your cigarettes and put them in cigarette cases, which were also a popular item because you could buy duty free cigarettes, throw away the tell-tale carton and smoke them to your heart and lungs’ content.
Then they started putting gross pictures of rotting throats and cancerous lips on packets, which were very disturbing to look at. So disturbing, it made me want to light up another stick to calm myself down.
If you’re a smoker, you’ll know what I mean. Nothing is going to deter you from having another cigarette if you’re not ready to give it up yourself. It’s like having a health warning on a packet of heroin and thinking it will deter the user. In fact, an addiction to smoking may be harder to break than an addiction to heroin.
Nicotine, the stuff that’s in tobacco, is a very, very powerful drug. It’s even been used as a pesticide (that has been accused of causing the mass demise of bees in North America).
Nicotine is unique in the way it affects its users. You’ve probably heard of smokers saying, “smoking helps me keep calm”, and “smoking keeps me alert” – two seemingly opposite effects, and which makes some non-smokers think that smokers are full of BS. But it’s true – the concentration of nicotine in the bloodstream (it takes 10-20 seconds to pass the blood/brain barrier) will determine the effect it has on the user: Nicotine can be both a sedative and a stimulant.
I don’t have to tell you the downsides of smoking – you know it – lung cancer, heart disease – you’ve seen it on the packets. But I’ll tell you the benefits of not smoking. I have been smoke-free since 2009, after 20 plus years of a pack a day habit. Since then, I’ve been able to taste my food better, I recover faster from colds and flu, and I can walk up and down flights of stairs without pausing to catch my breath.
For me, quitting was easier than I thought. No patches, no substitutes were used, and within a week I was able to get by without a craving, bar one time during reservist ICT two years ago, standing in full battle order in the stinking rain.
What I must tell you smokers who want to quit is that despite how powerful it is, it is not just nicotine you’re addicted to. It’s the combination of the other noxious chemicals in tobacco smoke with nicotine that’s getting you hooked.
Even if it’s known to be a drug whose ill effects far outweigh its advantages, the authorities are not about to ban the sale of cigarettes entirely and till then, people will keep killing themselves and making themselves sick legitimately.
But when you’re good and ready to give it up, have no fear. It’s easier than you think, and you’ll be able to keep your money and take back your health. If you need help, ask the quitters, not the stayers.
So what does smoking really do to you? Lung cancer is just the start. But first, let’s tackle a few ‘facts’ about smoking.
Some people say they gain weight when they stop. That’s actually true, but mostly because smoking kills your sense of taste, so when you quit, you enjoy food more. Also, some people will snack just to have something to do with their hands.
Do healthy habits like eating right and sports counteract the effects of smoking? Short answer – no.
What about stress-relief? Well, this is a good one. The ‘release’ when you puff happens because you’re feeding the nicotine addiction. Nicotine withdrawal is what causes the tension and irritability, so it’s really a vicious cycle.
Now for some real facts. Here’s a short list of the potential effects of smoking: heart attack, stroke, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and of course, lung cancer. For the men, there is also the matter of poor endurance, and I’m not talking outdoor sports.
So if you’re smoking, consider the benefits of quitting. If you don’t smoke, don’t start – it’s a very expensive habit.