I had my first ever cigarette around the age of 14. I became a social smoker around 15 or 16, smoking at parties on porches, getting cigarettes from that one kid that had an older sibling or a particularly irresponsible parent. At 17 or 18 I became a full time 20+ a day smoker, sneaking cigarettes on breaks at work and, laterally, hiding behind my hotels during my time as a holiday rep desperately puffing away before the next guest grabbed me to complain that there was no food they liked or that everyone spoke Spanish.
In subsequent years I made a few attempts to quit, usually when I got fed up of my empty bank account or inability to climb stairs without being out of breath. I quit for about 6 weeks in the summer of 2012 – the most successful attempt I’d had so far – and was quite proud of myself. Then my granda, the man I’d loved and lionised my entire life, passed away. The first thing I did was go to the shop and buy a packet of cigarettes, lighting the next one off the last through a film of tears. At the wake I went out for a cigarette with my secret-smoker cousin. My mum’s uncle, my grandmother’s youngest brother, grabbed my arm and said he understood I needed to smoke in this time of stress. He then implored me not to let it become a habit again, and told me of his regret for years of wasted money and ill health. I told him I’d try my best. I didn’t.
Three and a bit years passed by, and I found myself in hospital. The lowest point of my life to date. The nurse interviewed me on admission and asked if I was a smoker. She then asked if I wanted to quit, if I needed nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). I stuttered. I wanted to quit, but I was also acutely aware that I could not cope with the pain of rock bottom without the pleasure of cigarettes.
“Maybe not right now, huh?” she said.
My recovery was slow. Bit by bit I managed to piece things back together. I managed to get out of my hospital bed and get dressed. Then I managed to shower. Slowly I managed to eat more than a couple mouthfuls again. Somewhere in there I found myself asking the nurses for nicotine patches. Some days, stressful days, I snuck out for cigarettes. Some days I lasted without them.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I had my final cigarette on the 14th of January 2016. Four months ago. Seventeen weeks ago. One hundred and twenty one days ago.
My name is Claire, and I am a non-smoker.