Monday, February 20, 2012

Giving Up Smoking? Easy!

Since I became properly addicted to smoking at the age of 19 (a ridiculous age when I should have known better, agreed), the longest I had been able to give up was for a few hours at a time.

Usually that period would consist of me walking around like a possessed lunatic for a few hours, eating the head off anyone that dared cross my path (lollipop ladies didn't stand a chance...I was crossing that road whether they were ready for me or not), and being more of a dickhead than I am in general (a considerable feat) until I eventually succumbed to that sweet, loving, forgiving tobacco and promised never to leave it again like an insecure boyfriend who'd just dumped his girl then come crawling back when he realised that supermodels weren't lining up en masse on hearing the news that he was back on the prowl.

Probably the lowest point of my failed attempts at quitting came several years back while I was temporarily out of a job and penniless. I had an interview for a job lined up in Dublin City Centre and, upon getting off the bus and realising that I could probably make it on time if I power-walked, still called into their office to say I'd be approximately 10 minutes late. I used this 10 minutes to queue up in my local bank and withdraw €5 (I couldn't just use an ATM because you need at least €10 in your account to make a withdrawl and I simply didn't have it), put it together with the remaining loose change in my pocket and buy a packet of cigarettes to smoke en route to the interview. Suffice to say, my application for the job was unsuccessful.

And the reason why was that I simply didn't want to give up smoking. I still don't. Sure there are some negatives: moreso than the risk of cancer (my attitude has always be that if smoking doesn't get me, something else that I do every day likely will with the amount of conflicting, scare-mongering health reports you see in the news every day), I hated the bad breath, quite enjoy my teeth in their current non-rotted state and the idea of erectile dysfunction scares the ever-loving shit out of me. Basically, I'm like any man in that the only reason I'd even think about giving up is that it might stop me from getting my hole some day. And, yes, that's a fate worse than cancer in my eyes.

But no, I enjoy smoking, however un-PC it may be of me to say so. For writing, DJ-ing, or even in my day-job...whatever I'm doing at the time, smoking provides me with an escape away from the world for a few moments to gather my many (and often quite pointless) thoughts. I also enjoy the social aspect: anyone who is any craic knows that the smoking area is the best spot in any pub/club. I've made life-long friends from conversations started in the smoking area, I've gotten jobs because of getting to know people because we both smoked, and so on.

Plus, I've never wanted to be one of those pretentious non-smokers. I've never wanted to become an even more pretentious former smoker lecturing people on what they "need to do" with their lives. Fuck off.  Hearing that shit come out of people's mouths makes me want cancer. It seems an alright option in comparison to living on the same planet as absolute wankers like the above. Bill Hicks sums up my thoughts perfectly here:

So yeah, needless to say that I was in no rush to quit.

That was until I did the sums. And look, I'm not going to tell you how much you can save on smoking each week, month etc, but for me it was quite a lot of money. I'm also 24 and sick of my dead end dayjob where I do the exact same thing day-in, day-out. I'm sick of living in a country that offers me no prospects as a young, intelligent male with credentials and experience to boot, while I see the industries that I wish to spend my life working in say they're not hiring, all the while going to shit due to incompetence at the top level that I know how to fix with relative ease.

I don't care how much you spend every month on cigarettes, I don't care what you 'need to do', that's all your own business. All I care about is that I need to either get rich or get out of this country and I was denying myself a couple of hundred quid a month extra funds that would enable me to do so on my own terms.

The problem? There was no willpower beyond that. It's all well-and-good saying "I'm going to do this, and this, and this!" We all do it every New Year's and, six months later, end up just doing what we'd always done to begin with because doing this, this and this is fucking harder than we thought it would be!

Fortunately, a miracle was about to land on my lap.

And, as a result, I've been off the smokes around 7 weeks. To be brutally honest with you, it's been easy. I feel like I'm cheating the system.

Which is why I'm writing this blog: I'm not going to tell you what you should do, I'm just going to say that if you do decide to give up, there's a way that And I've been getting a ton of questions about it by smokers looking to give up while I'm out and about, so I figured it'd be handy if I wrote a catch-all blog explaining the details.

It's electronic smoking, vaping to give it it's technical term...but let's not get bogged down in the technicalities of it all and stick to what you need to know.

Vaping is basically short for vapourised nicotine, which is what you're taking. It works like patches in that it gives you your fix of nicotine without all of the tar and other chemical junk that you put into your system with an actual cigarette.

You take the nicotine by smoking an electronic cigarette as you would a normal one. The electronic cigarette is comprised of a white, stem-like battery and a cartridge that you screw on top (see the below pic). There end of it even lights up like an actual cigarette butt, which is a bit cheesy at first like you're playing with a toy, but the function also doubles up in use as it flashes to let you know when your battery needs to be charged (you do this by buying a USB/plug charger with your initial package, we'll get to that).

It tastes almost exactly like a real cigarette, you need to get used to it for a couple of days, but essentially it's like smoking a different brand in that you'll acquire the taste and forget all about it. There are also alternative flavours, if you wish, like apple, menthol or coffee. I'm sticking to Tobacco for the moment though so can't comment on what they're like.

Given that it's not actually a cigarette, you can smoke as much of it as you like when you like. What that translates into, for me, is that I'll generally have a few drags to cure the cravings at times and then other times I'd smoke it like a normal cigarette when I want to do what I used to and take a few minutes to chill out.

You can also smoke it where you like: expect to get a few odd looks off people in public places like bars, even staff coming up to you telling you can't smoke, but then just explain and they're fine with it. I haven't had one issue beyond that thus far and don't expect to. It also means that if you, like me, weren't able to smoke indoors at home then that's also now an option. There's no lingering smell or cloud of smoke as the nicotine simply vapourises and disappears into the night sky, like Tinkerbell or some shit.

The big benefit comes price-wise, though. I'm using the brand and have, with no problems, since day one. At the start, you need to buy your starter pack which contains two batteries, a carry case (which makes you look uber-intriguing and slick when you whip it out in the smoking area), your chargers and 5 cartridges. That's quoted at €49.99 on their website currently. All you need to do from there is top up your cartridges. One cartridge works out at approximately 20 cigarettes, right now I'm getting through around one every day. A packet of 5 cartridges costs me €10 over the counter in Tom Stanley's, Blanchardstown (though there also available online if you wish to just buy in bulk and stock up so you don't have to buy anything). I know that not every store stocks these yet and some stock different brands, so all you need to do is figure out if there's a retailer close to you or you're happy to order online. Having ordered online, their service is fast and reliable. You'll get the cartridges within a couple of days.

It's not difficult to do the maths: a packet of John Player Blue costs close enough to €10 (I don't know the exact price as I haven't bought, obviously, since the prices went up in the New Year) these days and would last me one day. These cost around the same and last me 5 days. In a month of 30 days, that's around €250 that I'm saving. And I'm essentially doing the exact same thing, with added benefits of being able to smoke indoors etc.

As far as charging goes, just plan ahead. Each battery lasts me around 24 hours now and takes around 3 hours to charge. So when one runs out just leave it charging while you go about your business and use the other one. As long as you stay on top of it, it's easy.

"But nicotine still isn't good for you!" you say. And you'd be right. This is where the 'giving up' part comes in. You see, when you buy your cartridges you can buy according to the strength of nicotine you want in it: extra high, high, medium, low and none. I'm still using the high nicotine cartridges and they closely resemble the taste to John Player. If you smoked Silk Cut, maybe go medium or low. You can also buy a trial pack which gives you high, medium and low cartridges in it so you can see what you like best.

So if you start on high and are determined to give up altogether, you can work your way down from medium to low to no nicotine whatsoever (for those who are just addicted to the motion/habit of smoking). If you are happy with the price involved, there's no reason that you can't do this for the rest of your life and smoke...without actually inhaling anything harmful. That's the best part about these: it's giving up smoking, while still smoking!

As for me, well 7 weeks is far from a lifetime so I realise that I can't yet call myself a full-fledged 'former smoker', but I genuinely can't see myself going back. That said, for the sake of openness and clarity, let me tell you about my couple of relapses.

The first time was during a DJ-ing gig. I had literally only got in the door, set up and was letting the assistant jock do his thing while I had an e-cig before people started arriving. Bad news: I hadn't planned ahead and charged. Knowing that mid-gig wasn't a smart time to start to try tackle it cold turkey, especially without any kind of mental preparation, I bummed a cig off him and another at the end of the night.

The difference here to when I'd have given up cold turkey was startling: any smoker who has done so will tell you that the first drag after you've given up is essentially hitting the reset button. And, before these, I'd have agreed. However, even while smoking them, I knew that wasn't the case then. I went home, put them onto charge, went to bed and got up the next morning getting right back into my e-cig routine without a care in the world.

The second time was the exact same set of circumstances: when I was out for the Superbowl, having a few pints and ran out midway through the game. I'd managed to go cold turkey for the rest of the game but then got outside afterwards and, especially with drink on me, said "fuck it" and bummed another. I smoked about half and threw the rest away. There was still no urgency to get back to the real deal because I was getting my fix elsewhere and saving a shitload of money in doing so.

The last relapse was when I knew I'd really made progress (and yes, I realise the irony of calling a relapse 'progress', but bear with me). A guy offered me a smoke in the smoking area and, again, I thought "why not? I know I can do this without getting hooked again." I took about three drags before throwing it away. The taste absolutely revolted me.

It was at that stage that I realised that I didn't want to smoke anymore. It was like the first time I'd moved from real cigs to electronic ones: I craved what I had been used to. Having had no massive willpower going into the challenge, except wanting to bulk up my wallet a bit, now the taste and feel of an actual cigarette made me literally nauseous. So I had a few drags of my e-cigs instead and was happy.

No, it won't cure your nicotine addiction overnight. Skeptical people may look at that as little to no progress, however I also assume that they are non-smokers or condescending former smokers and thus wankers so their opinions don't actually matter. What some might perceive as a negative is actually the e-cigarette's strongest benefit: it provides to you a relatively straightforward, struggle-free path to giving up the smokes long-term while also saving you considerable amounts of money while you do so.

It's a realistic, achievable target, not one of these BS 'miracle cures' that look to just profit from your pain and leave you right back where you started after doing so. If you try this and don't give up then there is literally no excuse. If I'm back on the cigs in a few months, it's my own fault and I'll have nobody to blame but myself. So, if you do decide you want to try, check out and be happy that finally there's a good option out there to help you do so.

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