The one thing I hated more than smoking, when I smoked, was those infuriating reformed smokers whose holier-than-thou condescension had me red in the face.

So, when finally the habit kicked me, I swore never to become a reformed ex-smoker — I just wouldn’t smoke, live and let live and all that.

BUT. Yes, you knew one was coming, and there is. BUT so much has changed since Monday the 23rd of March, 1988 at 5.52pm. We have, let’s be honest, a whole lot more information about smoking’s effects on us than we did then. And the diehard smokers have something in their arsenal which can be used to kick the habit. Stubbornness.

In the 21 years that I have been moist (“dry” doesn’t seem to fit), the smoking world has changed. It’s been turned inside out. Back then, we all smoked indoors. Pretty much anywhere we liked. And it must have been hell for non-smokers to be near people like me in those days.

But now, the smokers have all gone out of doors, and with them has gone the fresh air. I mean, it’s gone. There isn’t any left. You leave your office, go downstairs, walk outside and gulp great breaths of freshly exhaled smoke. Pretty much anywhere in the street or elsewhere in public places it’s the same.

If a statistical analysis was done, I reckon it would be found that the present incidence of smoking in what used to be called the fresh air is greatly higher than it was two decades ago.

I miss the fresh air. I really do. I love fresh air as much as I love drinking clear, chilled water or swimming in a cool pool. It’s one of the true pleasures of life, and it has been taken away from us by diehard, smokers who, driven out of doors by people trying to be healthy and live, still stubbornly refuse to get the message: it’s killing you. It’s fouling our air. Stop it.

And as for all these faddy, silly, money-making schemes and products to help people kick the habit with patches and pills and fake cigarettes and garlic, for all we know … it’s all nonsense. It’s all crap. Like most diet fads. They’re created by people who see a chance to make some money off your supposed weakness. How to counter such attitudes? I mean, do you enjoy having people patronise you and regard you as a weakling? So prove them wrong. Show them you’re strong. There’s only one way to stop smoking: stop. Just stop.

Sure, sure, if it was as easy as that everybody would be doing it. But it IS the only true way. I believe that. Draw on your deepest core of stubbornness — you have it, and you can’t deny it — and use it to get over it.

You have to want to stop, and that is something that I did have in my arsenal. I was, to be truthful, desperate to stop, but I had tried and failed so many times that I believed I’d never be able to give up. I was, let’s be emphatically clear, a diehard case. I was smoking 60 a day, chain-smoking pretty much from the moment I woke up to the second I went to sleep at night.

So I had GIVEN UP giving up smoking when one Monday evening I stubbed out a cigarette, pushed my cigarettes and disposable lighter away from me, and never smoked again. When for some days and weeks I craved a smoke, I did two things: I drew on my reserves of stubbornness – I Am Not Going To Do This – and I reminded myself that the first smoke after you haven’t smoked for a while never tastes good. It just doesn’t. It tastes foul. It does not deliver on the promise of the aroma. After the second and third, it does. But the first is just awful. So what’s the point of having that first one if it’s going to make you feel like throwing up as that putrid cloud of smoke invades your body? That’s what I reminded myself of. Trust me, it worked. Been clean for 21 years next week. Can be done. And no one can tell me it can’t.

And the cravings do go away. It is possible for them to go. Forever. I do not EVER crave a cigarette.

I have The Dream. I cannot deny it. But it is not a craving dream. It is a fear dream. In my dream, which haunts me roughly once every four or six weeks, I am in a pub or nightclub and everyone around me is smoking. Someone offers me a cigarette, I take it and light up. Then I have another and another, and I am so disappointed in myself that I wake up with a dreadful sense of regret. And then, again, realise that it is The Dream, that I really have not smoked in all those years. And relief floods through me with the clarity of fresh water.

But when last did I crave a cigarette? I’d say round about April or May 1988. Take this as encouragement, for I have no beef with smokers. I know how tough it is to kick the habit. But it can be kicked into touch. Just do it.

And, um, yeah, it would be nice to have fresh air back in our lives again. Really nice. Thank you for that.

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Tony Jackman

Tony Jackman

Tony Jackman is a journalist, budding playwright and sometime chef. He's written two plays, An Influence of Ghosts and Blue Train Coming, and back in the day wrote loads of songs. He paints a bit in watercolours...

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