I still remember the day I took my first drag from a cigarette. I was a postgraduate student, I had just turned 22 – and as is custom for university folk, I was at a party. The first drag gave me a coughing fit. I vowed never to smoke again.
Things, however, didn’t quite go as planned. Not only did I smoke again, but three years down the line, I had become a smoker. A smoker who, at one point, ended up smoking 14 cigarettes a day instead of the two she had promised herself. And that’s when the problems began.
The issue wasn’t a moral one – I didn’t condemn myself for smoking because it was wrong – but, it had all to do with my health. I noticed a definite drop in my appetite, and consequently, my weight dipped dangerously. I constantly felt weak and dizzy, and I had a perpetual cough and cold. Of course, my work started suffering, and there was a drop in my monetary resources as well.
I was worried. A little bit of reading up revealed to me that tobacco kills an alarming 7 million people every year. I learnt that smoking is the second largest risk factor for early death and disability. Shit.
I wanted to quit – but as it turns out, it was the hardest thing I would have to do. To date, I’m struggling with the habit. There was a time when I would wake up every morning and say to myself, “I’m not going to smoke today.” But, by the end of the day, I would have got through a packet, because I was ‘too stressed out and needed an outlet’.
To be honest, it never did much to ease any kind of stress. In fact, research conducted by a health psychologist in University College of London, revealed that smokers are 70% more likely to suffer from mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. Again, shit.
Over time, I have picked up a few small tips and tricks to cut down. For starters, I gave up trying to quit cold turkey. Personally, it seemed overly ambitious to me. Instead I set a personal timeline to cut down on the number of cigarettes I smoked. In the first week, I smoked 12 instead of 14, every single day. In the second week I brought it down to 10. Currently, I smoke six a day and intend to bring it down to two in the next couple of months. And it doesn’t seem impossible!
Studies reveal that using nicotine patches help in cutting down too, though I haven’t had need for those yet. Instead, I put down the following words on my wall “BY CUTTING DOWN, YOU’RE CHOOSING PHYSICAL AND MENTAL WELLNESS OVER ADDICTION.” Dramatic, I know – but hey, it helped!
Another thing that helped was buying only as many cigarettes as I needed. Instead of buying a pack, I started buying 10, then eight, and now I stick to six. I set aside a monthly budget for smoking – and knowing that I could run out of money to buy cigarettes towards the end of the month keeps my consumption consistent and in check. For my friends and colleagues, taking up physical activities like going to the gym or dance class has helped in reducing tobacco dependency. Makes sense, because you don’t want to be huffing and puffing or blacking out during your dance lessons, right?
Some support from the government, of course, would be good. There’s no denying that the policies against tobacco production and consumption in India need to be tightened significantly, because I’m not alone in succumbing to this habit. India is, in fact the second largest consumer of tobacco in the world. As a country, we definitely need our leaders to take stronger steps to kill the habit that kills almost 1 million yearly. If not for anything else, just for the fact that it’s killing our country’s development goals. An astounding expenditure of ₹1,04,500 crore is incurred just to deal with tobacco-related diseases, according to a study by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the WHO Country Office for India! Clearly, we need to help our government in changing this!
Ultimately, it boils down to a choice between what’s crucial and non-negotiable – like the choice I made between choosing a healthy life over a painful, disease-ridden death. I ask myself every morning if the five minutes of pleasure derived from smoking one cigarette are worth my lungs, my sex life and my savings. And every day, the resounding “No” in my mind convinces me that I’m doing the right thing in trying to quit.