Friday, February 23, 2018

Your life in your hands

 A reported 16 murders in the first six days of the New Year, plus growing and widespread cynicism about the repeated police claim that there is a decline in “serious crimes” are inauspicious auguries at the start of 2014. 

Both National Security Minister Gary Griffith in particular and the Government in general had better soon register, other than just talking “bold and bad’’ about it, some serious headway against this murder spree or run the risk of losing  public confidence in an irrevocably damaging way.

That said, in this my first column for 2014 I want to wish you all the very best for the New Year while I make no apologies for returning to a subject that I have dealt with at least twice since taking a personal decision several months ago to quit smoking.

This January 1 made it exactly 50 years since a ground-breaking report by United States surgeon general Luther Terry first warned that smoking caused illness and death and that the government had to do something about it.

Today, January 8, marks 124 consecutive cigarette-free days for me since I took that decision after some 50 years of being a heavy smoker. And in truth, I’ve now converted that decision into my single New Year resolution, to stop smoking, period!

I must say I have been very encouraged by the positive responses I’ve had from the general public, both here and abroad (oh yes, people anxious to give up this bad habit and who are encouraged by my example have been in contact from both the United Kingdom and the United States, so far).

When I initially posted the fact that I had achieved 100 smoke-free days since taking that decision, I received 110 responses of congratulations and other forms of encouragement plus such a typical comment from one Geraldine Larsen who said: “Well done! I will have to do the same.”

Encouraged by such responses, I’ve even been thinking of forming a sort of Smokers’ Anonymous (SA) group, which will be made up of people who want to or have quit smoking and need support and encouragement.

Several people I have met at private functions have also urged me not to give up on my resolve because since they were taking my example, my going back on my word would have a very negative impact on them.

So now I’ve come to feel a sense of “responsibility” for others who want to or have newly relinquished this bad habit.

It brings to mind a woman I met while doing some shopping in Hi-Lo one afternoon, several weeks ago  who, on learning that I had just quit, wanted to know how I had done it, declaring: “My husband is after me seriously to stop smoking.”

I told her what I have been telling others who have since expressed an interest in following in my footsteps: “Just quit and apply ‘cold turkey’ — in short, iron clad will power against the temptation to just take one little puff”, which is the nicotine habit trap because that “one little puff” will land you right back where you left off, smoking heavily again.

There’s even a slogan for it—NOPE, Not One Puff Even.

Don’t think it’s easy. I know one local social activist who told me recently he gave up the habit about eight years ago but “not a day passes that I don’t feel to smoke a cigarette.”

The temptation is always with me. But so is what I call “bad mind’’, my main weapon of defence. I’ve convinced myself and continue to do so every day: that tobacco, nicotine, nothing is stronger than my personal will power. I also confirmed over the Christmas holidays that one of my two daughters smokes (my second daughter’s husband smokes and I cautioned him on Christmas Day about the pernicious effects of that poisonous habit).

I couldn’t of course order my second daughter to stop smoking. She’s a grown adult and entitled to exercise free choice.

But I pointed to comments by people like Independent Senator Dr Victor Wheeler who in a recent debate on the new Tobacco Control Act in the Senate virtually called for cigarette smoking to be banned in Trinidad and Tobago.

I don’t believe that’s going to  happen, at least not in my lifetime. But Dr Wheeler, saying that cigarette manufacturers should be ashamed of themselves, stated bluntly: “Smoking kills and kills slowly.” 

In fact, he added, “deaths due to cigarette smoking are more than deaths due to HIV, motor vehicular accidents, suicides, murders, even illegal drug use combined...” (Though if the present murder rate in Trinidad continues, Dr Wheeler might well have to revisit that statement).

Tobacco, he said, “is the only legal product (that) when used as it is intended kills half of all long term users (but) this is not true of any other product.”

Of course, committed smokers are quite likely to ignore these warnings. As someone pointed out to me the other day, she saw a man walking through an airport lounge with a carton of cigarettes under his arm and the carton was clearly marked: Smoking kills.

I told her that serious smokers, that is people addicted to nicotine, willingly ignore these warning signs because they are hooked. After a while it’s not just the pleasure of smoking. It’s the plain and simple addiction to nicotine.

Well, I must confess that I find the idea of my being hooked or addicted to nicotine, or any other drug for that matter, wholly intolerable. I started out ridding myself of the cigarette habit because I wanted to prove that my personal will power was stronger that the tobacco addiction. And 124 days later I’m proud to say, so far, so good.

Persons like Senator Wheeler are not alone in their reaction to cigarette smoking. 

Two Sundays ago, the Chinese Communist Party—yes, you got that right, the Chinese Communist Party!—issued an edict, calling on party officials “to lead by example” and stop smoking in public.

China, with a population of 1.35 billion, has more than 300 million smokers, some 1.4 million of whom die from smoking-related diseases every year.

I never thought the day would come when the Chinese or any  Communist Party and myself would see eye to eye on anything. But on Sunday, December 29, the party publicly declared: “Smoking by some party officials not only endangers public health but also damages the image of the party and the government.”

Kudos to the Chinese Communist Party for what I regard as a really progressive step forward on public health!

And mark my word: do yourself a favour for the New Year 2014. Take your life in your own hands and stop smoking!