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In for the long haul

By Raoul Pantin

 I’m both happy and proud to say that today marks my 208th consecutive day without smoking a single cigarette since I took a decision to quit that poisonous habit several months—smokeless day number 200 was last week Tuesday, exactly one week away from All Fools’ Day —and I’ll admit that it felt very good on April 1 this year not to be numbered among the foolish (there’s no other word for it, sorry about that) who continue to smoke in spite of the most dire medical warnings against it.

This is not to say that I haven’t been sorely tempted several times to “take one little puff”, which, of course, is the trap not to fall into because before you know it, that “one little puff” will lead you right back to where you left off, puffing your life slowly but surely away.

It was a friend who had that experience that gave me the slogan NOPE—not one puff ever—to help fight the nicotine addiction, and there is no doubt about it at all: it is an addiction. A powerful addiction. But so taken for granted that very few people, including most doctors, make a big fuss about it. Which, of course, is much appreciated by the companies that sell cigarettes.

It seems to me that people addicted to nicotine are not very dissimilar to people addicted to alcohol, otherwise known as alcoholics —but, again, that’s not a comparison often made, though both addictions are extremely harmful to both the body and the mind.

My friend’s experience was worth taking careful note of. After being a heavy smoker for about 20 years, she decided to quit. And did. Then one night that little persistent voice in her head said: “Oh, just have one little puff.” Which she did. It then took her another five years before she could quit again. For good this time.

And it must have taken a great deal of resolve to quit the second time around. Most people might just have decided—oh, what the hell... I may as well just go on smoking rather than go through another exercise in restraint and denial.

But she wisely quit again. And made up her mind that she would never resume the habit, no matter how sorely she was tempted. And to date, she has stuck to her resolve. And I remain grateful to her for telling me about the experience.

It has in fact repeatedly surprised me how strongly that temptation nags at you even after weeks of no smoking at all.

But what I’ve found very encouraging is the number of people I’ve met who told me they’ve decided to follow my example and quit or are planning to quit. 

“How many days now?” is  a question complete strangers have frequently asked me on the street. And since I’ve kept careful track of those smoke-free days, I’m always in a position to state the exact number of days that I haven’t smoked.

And in what I’ve come to call “the avalanche effect”,  to date I know of more than two dozen people, some of them complete strangers, who have told me they’re following in my footsteps and either have quit smoking or plan to shortly.

That, of course, has encouraged me to maintain my resolve because I would hate the very idea of letting all those people down by resuming the habit.

I’ve even attracted the attention of a group of doctors who have invited me to join them in a campaign aimed at discouraging secondary school students from taking up the smoking habit, something that I am more than willing to take part in.

I can certainly tell you that no such group or campaign existed when I was at secondary school, when we couldn’t wait for school to be over for the day so we could light up and start puffing away.

It’s an undeniable fact that most smokers start at a fairly young age and for reasons that have much more do to with self-image and ego rather than the so-called “pleasures” of smoking. Of course it’s in the interest of cigarette companies to attract them as young as possible, knowing how easy it is to get people hooked—usually for life (unless of course short-circuited by any number of diseases brought on by cigarette smoking or, as in my case, the exercise of free will power).

I know I started smoking, possibly around 13 or 14 years old, because I felt it made me look like a “big man”. All the “big men” I knew, starting with my own father, smoked. So I wanted to join that group. It felt glamorous too, being able to light up at will and puff away to my heart’s content, seldom being admonished by adults around me who seemed to take smoking, even among one so young, for granted.

Bear in mind that it wasn’t until the early 1960s that the US Surgeon General first issued a report that pointed clearly to the health dangers of cigarette smoking and even after that, it took quite a few years before governments and social groups began to actively campaign against the habit.

In my case, as I’ve pointed out in earlier columns on this subject, I wanted to demonstrate that my free will power was stronger than any habit or addiction—and it is that focus, more than anything else, that has made me stick to my original resolution. It’s like a competition between the lure of nicotine and my own sense of independent, free will power.

Now with 200-plus smoke-free days behind me, I am even more determined to be in it for the long haul. I have also met a number of people who quit the habit and managed to defeat that nicotine addiction for so long  that, in effect, they have simply given up smoking for life. 

Now I want to join that camp. And the sooner the better.

On Sunday, March 23 in a very disturbing column, Raffique Shah, echoing a sentiment I have heard repeatedly for some time now, wrote: “This society is hurtling towards a collapse in just about every facet of life that defines civilisation.” 

One certain cause is our absolute lack of self-discipline and total focus, always, on the immediate or short-term, never the long haul.

I make no apologies for returning to this subject yet again in this column because I believe it is vitally important to continue to demonstrate, simple as it may seem, personal self-restraint and self-discipline, which is sadly lacking in so  many aspects of our national character. Mark my word!

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