By former Tobacco Talk Coordinator Colin Maloney
I often talk about my own experience with changing from smoking to not smoking, and recently found the journal I used during my last major effort. (I say this because it wasn’t the last time I smoked, that was a few years later in 2008, but it was the last time I smoked every day.) I thought it might be interesting to some to write out parts of the story, and show some pictures of what worked for me.
I’d been smoking for longer than I care to admit when I was presented with a ballot initiative to increase the tobacco tax to raise money for the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s expanded Medicaid program.
I supported the idea that tobacco taxes should go to pay for health care, and also liked the idea that higher tobacco taxes made it more likely that many young people wouldn’t start smoking on a regular basis.
The money was one issue, but I was actually more struck with the question about whether I was so dependent on smoking that I would continue to pay ever increasing amounts of money to continue to smoke. The prices certainly wouldn’t ever come down, and I knew that long-term I didn’t want to be smoking.
I voted for the tax increase, but decided that I didn’t want to pay it, so I would stop buying cigarettes on the day that it went into effect.
I had tried to stop smoking before, but had always gone back. I thought that maybe with a date, it would make things a little easier, as I’d have some time to prepare. I also wanted to prepare myself for slips, and not falling into a binary, black and white, success or failure mentality. In the past, if I’d smoked one cigarette, I’d consider the whole effort a waste. The “logical” step after having one cigarette was OBVIOUSLY to buy another pack and smoke 20 more.
So, I decided to keep a journal of all the cigarettes I smoked after November 1st arrived, but also keep track of the cigarettes that I didn’t smoke. My hope was that that would keep me on track in case I wasn’t “perfect.”
On Day 1, I was successful in not smoking at all! Yay! That was 0 cigarettes on a day that normally would have smoked 20. Day 2, I was also successful in smoking 0 cigarettes. So, that was 0 cigarettes smoked instead of 40. Day 3, well… Day 3 I smoked 2 cigarettes. I don’t remember the circumstance, but I suspect it was late at night (and that there was potentially alcohol involved) because I documented that I also smoked half a cigarette on Day 4.
I think the difference was that I could see that even though I had slipped, and smoked a little, I was still on track and making progress towards my goal. I was smoke-free on Day 5 too, and by that time had only smoked 2.5 cigarettes instead of 100! Being able to see that there were 97.5 cigarettes that I hadn’t smoked, that I would have otherwise, helped me push through that first week.
Day 6, I smoked one cigarette, but then on Day 7, I started a consecutive streak that would last for months. Each day I told myself that it was my intention to not smoke that day. And each day I reaffirmed that, whether I’d been successful the day before or not. And I continued to go with my commitment not to buy cigarettes, which made it a lot easier not to smoke them.
I kept keeping track, and by the 25th of that November, I realized that I would have smoked 500 cigarettes. By the end of the month, I would have smoked 600. I remember that the real moment that things hit me was after day 50, on December 20th. I realized that by then I would have smoked 1,000 cigarettes. It never had occurred to me that I would have smoked 1,000s of cigarettes, much less having smoked 1,000 cigarettes in less than two months, every less than two months.
I think at that point I was pretty much done. The idea that I would return to daily smoking was really unappealing. While I did experience a few periods of smoking between then and when I stopped for what I hope will be the last time, I haven’t since smoked every day for any length of time. My last cigarette was in 2008, and I have no plans to smoke again any time soon.
IMPORTANT PROVISO! I will say that this method isn’t going to work for everyone. It worked for me, but there are some potential challenges with it. One, it can lead to what I refer to as “bargaining.” Especially as time goes on, one might think, “Oh, I’ve smoked A LOT less than I would have, what’s one cigarette going to hurt?” I know from personal experience, and from listening to others, that “one cigarette” rarely stays one cigarette.
From times that I would stop, and then say, “I think I’ll just have one while I’m out.” Then maybe it’s two. Or, you get tired of getting cigarettes from friends (or they get tired of giving them to you) and you decided to buy a pack just for while you’re out. Then you start smoking again during the day, and before you know it, you’re back to where you where you were in the beginning. So, I generally urge people to avoid the “just one” trap.