Ministry of Health Singapore. All Rights Reserved.
How does one quit smoking after smoking for over seventeen years? We talk to a long-term smoker who tells us how she did it.
I can quit smoking any time I want to.
For smokers, statements like these tend to be true at first — but eventually the habit crosses the line and becomes an addiction, and quitting suddenly becomes a daunting process to begin.
Yet quitting with the right support plan in place might not be as difficult as you think — Elaine Poh, a 36-year-old web developer shares with us her quitting journey and how she found the motivation to remain smoke-free after smoking for close to 17 years.
Related: Smoking — Habit or Addiction?
Elaine picked up her first cigarette at the age of 15, and began smoking regularly the year after.
“Smoking was regarded differently back then,” she shares. “There wasn’t the same stigma around it as there is now, and I grew up thinking smoking was ‘cool’ and a good way to meet new people.”
After all, her father and sister were already smoking, and many of her friends had already picked up the habit as well. Being underage also wasn’t an issue back then, as ID checks for cigarette purchases weren’t as strictly enforced in the small convenience stores that used to dot Singapore in the 90s.
“Smoking just became a part of my life, and this didn’t change as I grew up,” she tells us. “When I started working, smoking was a great way to introduce myself to new people, and everyone at my first workplace smoked — we all used to smoke in the office together with the windows open!”
At her peak Elaine was smoking over ten sticks a day, spending over $200 a month on buying cigarettes alone.
Related: Boosting Workplace Health and Productivity
Elaine made a few half-hearted attempts over the 17 years but none of them worked out — something she attributes to the lack of a real desire to quit on her part.
“The longest I quit for was about three months, because of an ex-boyfriend who disapproved of smoking. It didn’t last — I used to hide in his bathroom and smoke out of the window so that he wouldn’t know,” she laughs. “I just didn’t really have the conviction to quit yet at that time.”
Elaine only began thinking about quitting seriously when she hit her thirties and started thinking about her future.
“I felt I was getting older, so I wanted to quit for my health, mainly. I wanted to have children, and I didn’t want my smoking to affect them.”
So when her boss decided to quit smoking, Elaine joined her. Together, they made a pact to quit on their birthdays — and they kept to that promise.
“My boss quit first since her birthday was earlier, mine was only the year after. It really helped to have her as a friend and a boss to quit first and encourage me to quit. I was smoking just as heavily even the day before I stopped completely — I didn’t cut down at all before that because I knew I was going to be quitting soon,” she admits.
Elaine quit smoking cold turkey on her 33rd birthday in 2013, and has been smoke-free since.
Stopping completely wasn’t as hard as Elaine thought it was, and she didn’t experience much withdrawal symptoms. However, she did struggle with one problem — getting over the desire to smoke.
“I didn’t have any mood swings, I didn’t feel frustrated or any of that when I stopped. But I used to find smoking enjoyable, and still do,” she admits. “I still feel myself wanting to smoke whenever I see or smell it, even now three years later.”
Related: How to Quit
So how exactly did Elaine overcome this desire and quit smoking? She thinks it’s about two main factors: changing her lifestyle to avoid triggers, and staying motivated to remain smoke-free.
“I knew I had to avoid seeing or smelling cigarettes after I quit, so I spent more time in air-conditioned places where smoking wasn’t allowed, and hung out more with friends who didn’t smoke,” she tells us. “There were a lot of habits I had to break, like going for a smoke after meals, going for a smoke when I’m bored, and all those.”
It also helped that her sister decided to quit shortly after she did to join her, and her father had already quit years ago. With her boss having already quit, this meant that she no longer had any fellow smokers at home and at work — the places she spent the most time in.
“Having a smoke-free environment is really important,” she feels. “Not constantly being reminded of smoking really helps cut down on the desire to do so.”
Ultimately, however, she feels that the main drive behind quitting is your own will power in the first place.
“You must come to the realisation that if you really want to quit, you can,” she emphasizes. “I regret picking up the habit, and if I could go back I wouldn’t start again. Quitting isn’t something you do for other people, it’s something you do for yourself. My husband and family disapproved, but I only succeeded in quitting when I really did it for myself.”
“When we quit together, my boss participated in quit programmes and used support services. I didn’t do that because I didn’t want to have someone interfere in my life, but you have to find what works for you.”
“There are many support services available, and they’re always there if you need the extra help, if you need someone to motivate you and remind you to keep going,” she concludes.
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This article was last reviewed on
Monday, January 29, 2018
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