The hall of male heroes is clogged with smokers. Every day, James Bond puffs his way through 70 high-tar, unfiltered cigarettes made with a blend of black Turkish tobaccos. In the classic film Casablanca, night club proprietor Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart) effortlessly outwits the Nazis while permanently enveloped in a cloud of his own cigarette fumes.
These men aren't worried about developing a cough, let alone cancer. They behave as if their lungs were made of titanium and their hearts of reinforced concrete, so little concern do they show about the health risks they're so obviously running.
But their essential organs, like everyone's, are actually made of soft and vulnerable tissues that don't take kindly to nicotine or the hundreds of other toxic ingredients stuffed inside a cigarette. In fact, Humphrey Bogart died of cancer of the oesophagus, a disease often caused by smoking. If he'd really existed, James Bond almost certainly would have developed lung cancer - that's if the booze, sexually transmitted infections or SMERSH bullets hadn't got him first.
About half of all regular cigarette smokers will eventually be killed by their habit and, on average, every time a smoker lights up, he's shortening his life by more than five minutes. Giving up smoking may mean giving up part of the image we have of ourselves as men - fast-living, care-free, risk-taking, rebellious, even heroic - but the gains surely outweigh the losses: a longer life, firmer erections, a higher sperm count and breath that no longer smells like an ashtray.
How do I stub out smoking for good?
- Make a definite commitment. Set a date and time for giving up and stick to it. But be realistic too: don't try it the day before you've got a job interview or if your dog's just died.
- Keep a 'smoking diary'. Noting down when you light up and what's happening at the time could help you identify your key smoking triggers. For example, you may find that you have a cigarette after a meal or every time you have to make a difficult telephone call at work. This can help you work out alternatives to having a puff.
- Go for broke - in other words, complete abstinence. Don't try a gradual reduction approach - the evidence is that it doesn't work because it saps the will to stop: the more you cut down, the more important each remaining cigarette becomes and the harder it is to give up the last few.
- Chuck out all your smoking materials and paraphernalia (lighters, ashtrays, etc.). This should make it harder for you to start smoking again if your determination temporarily weakens.
- Avoid situations where you might be tempted to smoke. This could mean, for example, not going out for a drink with colleagues at lunchtime or straight after work.
- Try to quit with others. You can provide mutual encouragement and share how bad you feel with people who really understand what you're going through.
- Get expert help. NHS Stop-smoking centres will be available throughout the UK by April 2001. The centres have specially trained staff who can advise on the best way for you to stop. The treatment involves attending an initial consultation, where you will agree a quit date and work out an effective action plan. You will also be offered follow-up contact. Centres usually offer a choice of individual or group therapy. (To locate your nearest centre, contact one of the helplines listed below.)
- Ease the withdrawal symptoms with nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) - the research shows that the patches, gum, inhaler or the nasal spray all double the chances of success. But don't expect any NRT to be a magic cure: all it can do is reduce the cravings for a cigarette, not make them go away. Nevertheless, it should reduce withdrawal symptoms and it's certainly better than going cold turkey. There's also good evidence that the anti-depressant drug bupropion (known as Zyban) can help quitting, either in combination with a NRT or on its own. Discuss the options with an NHS stop-smoking centre, your GP or a pharmacist.
- Don't be discouraged by a relapse. Rather than feeling guilty or a failure, try to focus on what you've already achieved and think about how you can make your next attempt even more effective.
- If yo're able to, put the money you save to one side. Watch it mount up. Then spend it!
First drafted by Peter Baker
Page created on July 16th, 2003
Page updated on March 11th, 2010