Monday 24 October 2016

What Katie Did Next: In which I stub out my last-ever cigarette

Katie Byrne
Katie Byrne

There are many scenarios in which it is deemed inappropriate to smoke a cigarette.

You shouldn't light up at the back of a maternity hospital or in front of your new boyfriend's parents.

Dentists say you shouldn't smoke after a tooth extraction and doctors say you shouldn't smoke in the weeks leading up to an operation.

My mother tells me that ladies don't smoke on the street while my uncle tells me that only a certain type of lady smokes first thing in the morning - a coffee and a cigarette is dubiously known as a 'whore's breakfast', more of which anon.

It is also recommended that you don't smoke after you get the fine lines that appear around the mouth zapped by an anti-ageing laser at a non-cosmetic clinic.

I've flouted these rules in every regard, but it was last week, when I lit up a Benson & Hedges after paying €150 to have my face rejuvenated by a skin-tightening laser, that I began to question my logic, or lack of it.

I would like to tell you that I decided to give up after visiting the respiratory care department in St Vincent's, or after attending the funeral of a friend who died from lung cancer. Regretfully, this is not the case.

I finally decided to quit when I realised I was frittering away the money I was spending on collagen rejuvenating facial treatments. And I don't think I'm alone.

Anti-tobacco advocates and health promotion officers should consider a woman's vanity when they decide what photographs to post on the side of cigarette boxes.

Instead of scaremongering with worst-case-scenario tumours that look like something from Alien Resurrection, they should instead emblazon boxes with photographs of young female smokers with early onset ageing alongside statements such as SMOKING MAKES YOUR LOWER FACE LOOK LIKE A LANDSLIDE.

A simple photograph of a beautiful young woman with yellow-stained teeth could also be effective, but I digress...

Smoking wasn't just making me look awful, it was making me feel awful too. I would like to tell you that I begin each day by drinking hot water and lemon while sitting in the lotus position but the truth is that I was partial to a whore's breakfast. In fact, it was the only cigarette of the day that I thoroughly enjoyed (well, post-prandial and post-coital ones aside).

Unfortunately, as all fellow nicotine addicts know, early morning smoking and acute self-loathing go hand in glove, and even if I was wearing a silk dressing gown from Susan Hunter, I always felt as though I was wearing a low-cut polyester chemise from Guiney's. Stained nails and foul-smelling clothing aside... I just didn't want to feel like that anymore...

And so it was that I considered acupuncture, the Allen Carr method and some app that tracks how long it's been since you stopped smoking. Close, but no cigarette.

In the end I settled on a more unusual approach... I got down on my knees and prayed.

As cessation techniques go, it's not for everyone. However even non-believers would have to concede that we tend to want the things we pray for with every cell of our being... and that's a good place to start.

I've also turned to a technique that proved successful the last time I gave up: Pavlovian conditioning. Whenever I feel the urge to smoke, I give myself a sharp pinch before imagining ghastly, stomach-churning, nausea-inducing scenarios such as eating the contents of an ashtray. The brain soon learns to associate the pleasure of smoking with the pain of these sensations and cravings are significantly reduced.

I've shifted my perspective too.

I haven't given up smoking. No, I've given myself an extra €150 a month to spend on beauty treatments, shoes and general fripperies.

I wasn't just coughing up for cigarettes you see.

Over the last few years I've substantially reduced my cigarette consumption by curtailing my smoking to mornings and evenings and using nicotine replacement therapy for the rest of the day.


It was a bit like the Slimfast programme, but instead of a "proper dinner", I had two delicious fags after dessert.

This also allowed me to avoid those excruciatingly awkward 'back to the grindstone' conversations with fellow smokers, and avert the attention of the types who feel compelled to say "they'll kill you, you know". Really?! No! Where did you hear that?

The trouble with combining tobacco with smoking cessation products is that you end up with the nicotine constitution of a small elephant.

My day simply wasn't complete unless I had both. Worse still, I'm convinced that I had also become addicted to something in the Nicorette QuickMist solution...

I'm still allowing myself the occasional squirt of it but this time around I'm treating nicotine replacement like a drunken booty call as opposed to a trustworthy and supportive partner.

These companies have their own agendas - Big Tobacco now owns many of the major E-cig brands for heaven's sake - and so they should only be called upon in times of desperation.

My final recommendation is to make it public. Tell your granny, your Facebook friends... or your column readers. Pride is a fantastic motivator, and it's also deemed inappropriate to smoke when you've previously claimed to have quit.

'I lit up a Benson & Hedges after paying €150 to have my face rejuvenated'

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