Let’s do a small experiment. Imagine you have no idea as to what is smoking and have never heard of tobacco in your entire life. You have seen no movies where actors use cigarettes, haven’t stumbled upon any kinds of advertisements endorsing smoking, and have never met a single person ever putting something in his mouth, torching it, and throwing a puff of smoke into the atmosphere.
Basically, your memory revolving around smoking is eviscerated. Now, if I come to you and show you a small cylindrical container that consists of some burnable content and ask you to put it between your teeth and light it up, what would you do?
Well, naturally you will ask, “Why would I do that? What’s in it for me?”
Then I’d say, “Honestly, nothing much. You’d probably kill yourself in all honesty if you keep doing that.”
“Well, WTF?!!?!? Why would you give me such a thing and why would anyone ever buy anything like that on God’s Green Earth?”
“Business, baby. Oh, and did I forget to mention that it also looks cool? And you know the fun part? Our customers are pretty chill with it. I mean dude, we literally say on our packaging that ‘Smoking Kills’ and yet our business is booming.1”
“Wow man, that’s insane. I wish I could also create a product like this with such an amazing pull. I mean, holy shit dude! Salesmen talk about all kinds of fake advantages their product can offer and people don’t give a shit, and here you are, literally telling people that they may die and people buy like crazy. What a time to be alive!”
The conversation is likely going to go someway like that. But seriously, it intrigues the shit out of me that how does a product—containing chemicals which are also found in insecticides, mothballs, rat poison, batteries, rocket fuels, nail polish remover, hair dye2—gain such massive popularity(over a billion people) and gave rise to a multi-billion dollar industry?
The History of Smoking
It makes sense to start from the beginning. So, I am not gonna bore you with a ton of facts and figures but simply give you a rough idea of how this madness took off.
It basically started in America as a ritual for a couple of religions, dating back to almost 5000 BCE, more specifically for Shamanistic rituals. I know you don’t probably know what that is. It’s basically the whole ‘calling and talking with spirits’ game that you might have played when you were young. The Ouija Board? Ring any bells?
Before the introduction of tobacco, the Middle East was already high on cannabis and tobacco simply put gasoline on a raging fire, and boy did it spread. Indian/Arab traders in the 13th century spread it to Africa. The Chinese were smoking opium for some apparent ‘medicinal purpose’. And Europe picked it up as well in the 15th century when it arrived in America.
That was a quick glance of how it kinda took off, but the question is that with a plethora of scientific studies literally pointing out the fatal consequences of smoking, why do some people still do it?
Why Do People Smoke?
#1 They were told to Smoke
Well, it’s kinda hard to fathom the fact that someone would simply on his own get this idea of smoking a coffin nail until and unless he has been explicitly told to do so. Now, there are various mediums through which one can be directed to do the same.
The first is obviously the direct approach. You go to a party and everyone in your friend circle is smoking and they ask you to light one up as well. You are out with your boss or your partner and they nudge you to do the same. Direct approach.
Indirect is where people indulge in it because they heard it from somewhere that it looks cool and hip and in order to fit in they gotta be a part of the ‘gang’. So, while your friends or boss or partner may not directly ask you to do it, you naturally feel inclined to do it because this seed of an idea was planted into your mind through ads, movies, or simply watching other people.
#2 “Let me try it once”
This is sort of an extension to the previous point only. When people are given the cue either directly or indirectly, they often get this urge to ‘just try it once’ to satiate their curiosity.
They can always say no before the advent of their smoking phase, but since their desire to ‘just see what’s in it, it’d be fun’ becomes so profound and deep, that they often give in and surrender.
It’s very important to understand that the journey of every addict begins like this only. They think they are just gonna try it once to see what it actually is, only to later realize that now it’s too late to call it quits. And I don’t entirely blame them, after all, overcoming nicotine addiction is no walk in the park.3
It’s a whole lot better and easier to say no to smoking when you are still a non-smoker than to quit smoking when you can easily gulp a whole pack down in a single day.
#3 Depression or Loneliness or Stress
Probably a cliche now but I still come across people who start smoking because they are either depressed or lonely. Cigarettes basically become a kind of a support system for them.
Whenever something bad or negative or unanticipated happens to them and they don’t know who to turn to, they pick up smoking probably because again they must have had this picture stored in their memory of people or actors smoking whenever they are going through a rough phase.
Smoking cigarettes becomes their access point to escape reality and reach a state devoid of all their underlying problems and challenges they face and feel a temporary sense of peace that doesn’t last very long.
To combat boredom, repetitiveness, and just the everyday stress people turn to cigarettes. But in the long run, smoking actually elevates your stress level, spikes up the tension, decreases your confidence, and makes your life worse than it was4.
#4 ‘It’s cool to Smoke’
No party is considered complete, no get-together is concluded, and no friends reunion is settled unless there are some ciggies on the burn nowadays. It has become a social norm to look cool and hip and fit in and that’s what forces most people to succumb to it.
I am gonna let you in on a little secret. You are not gonna look cool doing something just because the whole world thinks it’s cool, you are not gonna look cool doing something that goes against your basic nature just because your crush thinks it looks cool, and you are definitely not gonna look cool doing something forcefully and uncomfortably to impress someone.
The real cool is doing what you feel in your heart is the right thing to do even if no one else is doing it in this whole goddamn world, standing your ground and not giving a rat’s ass as to what people are gonna make of you. That’s the definition of being cool, ladies and gentlemen.
HOW TO STOP SMOKING?
#1 You Must Really Want to Quit Smoking
Let me be blunt. You won’t be able to quit smoking or any other addiction or bad habit for that matter if you don’t really want to quit it. You can read hundreds of tricks or tips, scan through a bazillion articles, and devour a trazillion videos, but until you don’t really feel inspired from your core that you do want to get rid of smoking, you can’t possibly succeed in it.
Ask yourselves genuinely, “Do I really want to quit smoking? Why do I want to get rid of it? Am I ready to face the consequences and bear the ramifications of it? Am I sure I will not give up no matter how hard it gets or how many times I fail?”
You gotta meditate on questions like those and gotta say some strong words to yourself if you are genuinely serious about calling it quits. This is perhaps the most important step. If you yourself don’t feel deeply inspired from the inside, you are never gonna make it happen.
It’s imperative you find your ‘why’ of quitting smoking and write it down on a piece of paper and hang it everywhere you can. Your closet, your bedroom, your bathroom, your wallet, your car, your office, your smartphone, everywhere your eyes revolve. You should see your ‘why’ everywhere you go if you are honestly serious about it.
This would work as a constant subtle nudge to help you remember what you are up to, in case you ever slack.
Go ahead only if you are sincerely trying to overcome this habit. I am not trying to judge anyone, it’s your own prerogative. I am simply trying to tell you who this article is really for. So, you can leave it here only if you are ok with smoking and don’t really have any major plans about quitting it.
#2 Insert a new Program into your Mind
Ok now that you really want to quit smoking but are unable to, here’s the thing. As of now, even though you consciously want to leave this habit, your subconscious mind is kinda jam-packed with information that’s still somewhere favoring smoking over quitting it.
The simple solution? Bombard yourself with information that supports your case. Read every last article on the harmful effects of smoking, go through every books and magazine on the same, watch every last video revealing all the toxic components that you are gonna find in a cigarette, listen to the podcasts of people reminiscing about the kind of horrific impact smoking had on their lives, consume the stories of transformation of how numerous people went from being chain smokers to teetotalers, and so on.
The process ain’t no rainbow and sunshine, but if you do it persistently, you are gonna start seeing an effect of it. You are essentially rewiring your subconscious mind and tricking it into modifying the existing sweet spot you have for smoking by consuming all kinds of content that goes against what’s already been fed into your subconscious.
This is gonna be a quantity game. The more you feed onto the type of content that makes your case stronger in your head, the less power your mind will hold over you, consequently giving you more control over modifying your habit.
#3 A Weird Way to Quit Smoking
I don’t know if it sounds practical or not, but one of my friend’s uncles told me about this weird way of how he was able to quit smoking. Like most smokers, he was also fed up with his habit and wanted to overcome it, but nothing seemed to work.
So, he thought of an ingenious idea. What he did was that he started to vehemently cough whenever he found himself around cigarette smoke. Yeah, that’s right. Sounds totally weird, but apparently it worked for him.
He simply conditioned his mind in such a way that whenever he would come close to the smoke, he would feel nauseous and would start coughing. While initially, this was a forced reaction from his side, but now he can’t actually stand the smoke of a cigarette, leading him to successfully beating this devil.
This tells a really special quality about our minds. Our minds are pretty powerful, they have the power to conjure things that don’t exist in real life, and make things disappear that do exist(in our head of course). Leverage this quality, and create a fake habit of loathing cigarettes and maybe you never know it actually transforms into a real one.
#4 Have Realistic Expectations
If you are a chain smoker for 10+ years then it’s stupid to expect that you will give up the habit overnight. You can’t and you probably shouldn’t even try doing that. If you do, there’s a pretty strong probability that you will fail which will make you frustrated and that in turn will make you go down on smoking more rigorously than before.
Set small and practical goals that are really easy to achieve. Like going down on the numbers of ciggies lit in a day. If you smoke 10 cigarettes a day, make it 9 for the next week, then 8 for the forthcoming week, and so on. Don’t take any major decisions, take baby steps, slowly and consistently.
Directly taking major leaps can cause more harm than you thought. People relapse pretty quickly as they often go into depression whenever they just quit it all at once. That can be a nasty situation to be in, so don’t fall into that trap. Slow and steady wins the race.
#5 It’s Simply Stupid To Smoke
Some people smoke because they think it makes them look uber cool when they blow smoke on someone’s face, or when they lean against a wall in solitude with a cigarette in one hand and contemplate their future. Some people on the other hand think smoking is a bad thing to do and they should be getting rid of it but can’t as they are so badly attached to it.
Quite frankly, if you look at the scenario from a purely logical perspective, it’s neither good nor bad, it’s simply plain nuts. The human body is an eco-friendly machine that isn’t meant to smoke.
Look at the irony, on one hand, we are trying to transform the polluting machinery into more sustainable and nature-loving, and on the other hand, we are regressing an already eco-friendly machine and polluting it in the worst ways possible, which isn’t just toxic for that machine but also for the whole world.
It’s not a bad thing, it’s completely stupid. People may do bad things all day long, but they wouldn’t do things that they think are stupid for long. Change the labels you associated with smoking and start calling it a stupid habit of yours. It will be so off-putting that you will overcome smoking in no time.
#6 The Physiological and Psychological Dependence
Chances are that you have gotten so addicted to nicotine that just when you think you are on the brink of quitting smoking for good from your life, the withdrawal symptoms kick in and you are lured right back to the dragon’s den.
You’d go through mood swings, irritation, anxiety, restlessness, difficulty in concentration, feeling of depression, irrational outbursts, eating disorders, lack of sleep, constipation, or even diarrhea. Now, I am not a certified doctor or anything but if you feel a tad overwhelmed with the quitting phase, there are some solutions that you can turn to.
Nicotine Replacement Theory, Nicotine Gum, Medication, and Inhalers are some of the ways(google them to know more about them). You can also join support groups online or offline to be in the company of people who are going through the exact same thing as you are, helping you to surround yourself with people who will understand you.
You can also include more workouts in your daily routine, meditation can bring a ton of value in helping you accelerate your fight against smoking, acupuncture, herbs, essential oils, yoga, hypnosis can also assist.
Some quick tips when you want to urge the craving to smoke involves finding an oral substitute(mint or gum), keeping your mind busy(in books, movies, music, puzzles), keeping your hands busy(stress balls, fidget spinners), brushing your teeth, and deep breathing exercises.
#7 Develop a New Relationship
Over the years you have essentially developed a deep-rooted relationship with cigarettes. There’s always a cigarette in your hand after every 30 min, or every breakfast, or every gym session, or every dinner, or a combination of them. You smoke after waking up, and you smoke right before you go to sleep.
Essentially, smoking cigarettes is not just any random activity that you do, it has become a part of your life, and if you hastily cut short such a well-defined part of your life, it is gonna backfire. So, what you have to do is that instead of cutting short of this habit, you gotta replace it gradually with more productive habits.
Now’s the time to distract yourself with those childhood artistry skills you repressed, or the gardening skills you wanna inculcate, or even just becoming more social and getting back with your old friends more.
You can’t and shouldn’t leave that void empty which is gonna develop when you take that first step towards quitting smoking. If you don’t cater to the void you are gonna create, that void will turn into a black hole and will engulf you like anything. So, don’t go gentle into that good night. And start shifting your attention towards other efficient and productive activities.
#8 The Neurological Play
So, let’s talk brain. There is one prefrontal cortex that is basically the rational and logical part of the brain, and then there’s this orbitofrontal cortex, the emotional and the reward-giving part of your brain. Whenever they don’t see eye to eye, there is a conflict that arises in you.
It almost feels like you are in the middle of a tug of war, where you are being pulled in either direction. Your logical brain telling you, “You shouldn’t smoke, it’s harmful and toxic for you” while your emotional side lures you, “Oh c’mon, you can have one. Everything is ok as long as done in moderation.”
If you have strong willpower and listen to your logical part, you’d feel like you are suppressing yourself from doing something that you are fond of, and there seems to be this pressure that’d start building inside you, ready to explode. This often results in making you smoke more aggressively whenever you cross that threshold mark as you can only limit that pressure to a certain extent only.
On the other hand, if you listen to your emotional part and give in to the temptation, you are gonna feel guilty from the inside and are gonna spoil your mood. Unsurprisingly, to make up for that mood, you’d again turn to cigarettes themselves. So, neither of them is the permanent solution.
The solution is to make them work together in your favor, and you do it not by controlling your urge, but instead while doing the activity itself. You simply have to force yourself into a little thinking while you are smoking and muster the courage to ask yourself “What benefits am I actually extracting from smoking cigarettes?”
This way, you are hitting two birds with a single stone. You are not suppressing your desire depriving yourself of smoking, and also you are establishing a moment of self-reflection, which if done consistently and sincerely, will definitely do the trick. Obviously, you will acknowledge the fact that the drawbacks far outweigh the so-called upsides.
You gotta stay persistent though, just one session of self-reflection and introspection won’t be enough. Keep repeating it until each and every cell of your body turns against smoking. Pretty soon your orbitofrontal cortex will place the benefits of ‘not smoking’ over smoking in the pecking order, and that’s what the aim is.
If you are serious enough, you will find a way. Otherwise, you will find an excuse. The choice is yours. Beware, you are not just smoking cigarettes, the cigarette is also smoking you.