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From 14 To 4 Cigarettes A Day: How I Learned To Cut Down On My Smoking

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TNC logoEditor’s Note: With #TobaccoNotCool, Youth Ki Awaaz and WHO India have joined hands to shed light on India's silent tobacco epidemic, which is claiming nearly 1 million lives every year. Join the campaign to discuss how tobacco consumption is a threat to India's development goals and take the message ahead to thousands!

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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.

Has the harm already been done? (Photo by Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

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 the 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.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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