We all know that smoking is bad for your health. It’s impossible not to with all the rules, regulations and health warnings around smoking. But a large percentage of people still smoke.
Why is that?
According to ASH (Action on Smoking & Health), around 19% of people in the UK smoke. Now, to me that’s a high percentage. But it’s not as high as our parent’s generation. In 1974, 51% of all British men smoked, and 41% of all women. That’s a crazy statistic when you stop and think about it.
Tobacco is a simple drug, with no obvious benefits. It doesn’t get us high, it doesn’t give us confidence, it doesn’t expand our mind, so why has it taken such a hold over the human race?
It was different in the old days when there was no control over the promotion of tobacco. Maybe the scale of addiction is a result of not the nicotine itself, but of the powers of consumerism. The 20th century saw a rise of persuasive advertising unlike anything seen before. We had radios, TVs, newspapers, films and music, and all of this could be used as a tool by big corporations to sell products.
If you’re a big money man, and only interested in profit, then what better product could there be than one that gets the buyer so addicted, that they have to keep coming back for more?
"More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette." (image courtesy of NYTimes)
When you look at it like that then it’s no surprise that over half the population were addicted to smoking by 1974. And despite advertising bans, warning labels, anti-smoking campaigns, and sales restrictions, almost 20% of the population are still hopelessly addicted in 2016.
The bottom line is: it isn’t easy to quit smoking. If it was, everyone would do it.
There isn’t one smoker, anywhere that doesn’t want to quit smoking. There isn’t one single reason to continue to smoke. If a smoker says they don’t want to quit, they don’t mean they don’t want to quit, they mean they don’t want to go through the process of quitting. That’s a big difference.
I started smoking when I was 14. Both my parents smoked, my brother smoked, and my friends at school smoked. I started with the odd puff, instigated by my brother. He’s 3 years older and loved getting me into trouble. He stood back and laughed while I coughed and spluttered, and taught me how to take the smoke down. As an older brother he looked cool, and of course I wanted to emulate everything he did.
So, it wasn’t long before I was stealing cigarettes from my parent’s and chipping in with friends to buy cigarettes. Before I knew it I was hooked. Come the age of 16, smoking cigarettes was the norm. Almost everyone I knew smoked, and smoking was a way of life, something that everyone did. No one knew why.
I knew smoking was a bad habit to have, and I knew it was damaging my lungs, blood vessels and heart. But anyone who’s addicted to nicotine knows that it’s not easy to quit.
I tried a few times, but would only last a day before crumbling and accepting a cigarette from whoever happened to be closest at the time.
Fast forward 10 years and I was well and truly addicted to nicotine and the physical aspects of smoking cigarettes. I resented the amount of money it cost. I looked at the pictures of charred lungs on the packet and cringed. But still I smoked. One day, after 15 years of smoking I decided to quit once and for all. I’d had enough of spending £8 daily on 20 cigarettes. Do the maths and that’s £56 per week, or £224 per month. I could buy a new car for that.
So I quit. I went cold turkey.
Here’s a timeline of what happens when you quit smoking:
After 20 minutes: Your blood pressure, pulse rate and hand/feet temperature return to normal. There’ll be no cravings at this point, but after an hour or so you’ll start thinking about having a cigarette.
After 8 hours: You’ll be more than thinking about cigarettes at this point. The nicotine level in your bloodstream will fall to 6.25%. This is a 93.75% reduction to your normal levels and you’ll be experiencing some serious craving and withdrawal symptoms.
After 12 hours: The oxygen on your blood returns to a normal level without being hindered by the nicotine in your system. Your carbon monoxide levels also drop to a normal level. But by now your mind and body is going crazy for a cigarette.
After 24 hours: If you’ve made it this far, your anxiety levels are at the peak of their intensity. Anxiety can cause strange side effects like paranoia and hyper activeness. You can feel low/depressed. This is an extremely difficult time in the quitting process.
After 48 hours: The damaged nerve endings in your body start to regrow and your sense of smell and taste start returning to normal. This is when the going gets really tough and you want to murder anyone you see smoking a cigarette. Cessation anger and irritability are at their peak during this period.
After 72 hours: The nicotine levels in your body drop to zero and over 90% of all nicotine metabolites are literally urinated out of your body. Symptoms of chemical withdrawal can peak in intensity during this time. Symptoms include restlessness, insomnia and anxiety. Cue induced craving episodes peak in intensity and many people throw in the towel at this stage. On a positive note your lung bronchial tubes, which lead to your air sacs begin to relax. Breathing becomes easier and lung functional abilities start to increase. If you can make it to the 4th day, then you’ll be over the worst and will start feeling positive about yourself again. But you’ve been on a tough, tough journey.
After 5 - 8 days: If you’ve made it this far, then you can consider yourself an ‘ex-smoker’. But you could still experience an average of three cue induced crave episodes per day. Some people get cue induced cravings up to a year or more after quitting smoking, and some people get them for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately, I only made it to day 3.
I felt so ill I started smoking again. I had a tickly cough, a sore throat and ulcers where I was so run down. I figured it wasn’t worth it. I gave in a bought a 10 pack, and within a day I was back to smoking as if nothing happened.
It wasn’t until 2010, when I was resigned to being a life-long smoker, that something happened to change my whole life. A friend of mine introduced me to vaping. He had a Kangertech pen. He was raving about it and said he hadn’t had a proper cigarette for over a month. I tried it, I liked it, and I haven’t had a tobacco cigarette since. It was as easy as that.
How I Used Vaping To Quit Smoking
I was quite lucky in that I took to e cigarettes instantly. I have friends since who have taken longer to get to grips with vaping. The most important thing is finding the right e cigarette. Some cheaper e cigs tend to leak, or some are harsher than others. If you stumble on the right setup straight away it makes the switch easier.
So I started off with an early version of the Kanger Evod vape pen. I was using tobacco flavoured e liquid, as I wanted the experience to be as close to smoking as possible. It wasn’t exactly like smoking, but 4 key benefits made me make the switch and never look back.
- I could vape at my desk. No more standing, huddled up outside in the rain at cigarette breaks.
- It doesn’t smell. I used to feel embarrassed when speaking to someone and they mentioned they could smell cigarette smoke on me. As a smoker you aren’t aware of how bad you smell to non-smokers. With vaping I didn’t have to worry any more.
- It’s cheaper. My first e cigarette cost me around £20, and a bottle of e juice was around £5. True I had to change cartomizers a few times each month, but I was paying £10 for a pack of 3. So it was actually only costing me around £20 per month to vape all day and night. I was spending over £200 before.
- It’s healthier. I think, even if vaping was just as bad for my health as smoking, I would still vape just for all the conveniences above. But according to many experts, it’s a lot healthier as well. So at least I know I’m not clogging up my lungs with tar.
Vaping satisfied my addiction to smoking enough for me to be able to seamlessly quit cigarettes altogether. There are two cravings that are induced by smoking cigarettes.
- The Nicotine Addiction
- The Smoking Habit
Nicotine is a highly addictive drug synthesized from tobacco plants. It’s the tobacco plant's natural defence mechanism which provides protection against being eaten by insects. So, at its core nicotine is a poison. It’s a poison so strong, that drop for drop its been proven to be as lethal as strychnine and three times deadlier than arsenic. The interesting thing about nicotine though, is that its chemical signature is similar to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and once inside the human brain it permits direct and indirect control over the flow of more than 200 neuro-chemicals, most importantly dopamine. In case you didn’t know, dopamine is the chemical released in your brain that’s associated with reward. When you receive or achieve something you really like, your brain releases dopamine and this makes you feel good. There are lots of drugs that target the release of dopamine, and nicotine was one of the first.
When you smoke a cigarette you are ingesting a small amount of nicotine. Over time‚ your body gets used to having nicotine in its system and this is when the addiction takes hold. When you stop smoking‚ your body has to get used to living without nicotine again, and this is where you get withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal, as explained earlier is a nasty and uncomfortable process. Some people say it feels like a mild case of the flu, and it can last anything from a few days to a few weeks.
The Smoking Habit
The smoking habit is the habit of the act of smoking itself. The act of raising something to your mouth and inhaling is a habit almost as strong as an addiction. That’s why there are devices that are basically dummy cigarettes, which people can pretend to smoke while they are trying to quit. Other habits around smoking can be tied to people, places, times and routines. You might always have a cigarette when you have a drink for example. So, every time you have a drink, you have a craving for a cigarette. These type of addictions aren’t physical, but they can be just as powerful and just as difficult to break.
How Vaping Satisfies A Smoking Addiction
If you’re addicted to smoking, then it’s very hard to quit because of the two addictions associated with it. But replacing tobacco cigarettes with e cigarettes keeps the same addictions but replaces the product. So you have quit smoking, but let’s not kid ourselves, your still addicted to nicotine, and to the habits associated with vaping.
Vaping satisfies your nicotine addiction by providing your body with small quantities of nicotine. And it satisfies the habit of smoking because the act itself is very similar to smoking.
So, if I switch from smoking to vaping, can I call myself a non-smoker?
I think so, yes. I don’t touch cigarettes or tobacco now, so I’m a vaper not a smoker. I’m an ex-smoker. I have friends who vape, and still smoke recreationally. Maybe while they’re out or in situations where they fancy a cigarette but don’t have their e cig available. They’re still smokers, but they’re happy with the compromise. For me I wouldn’t touch tobacco again as I’m enjoying a tar free body, and I hate the smell that lingers from smoking a cigarette.
How I Can Use Vaping to Quit Nicotine Altogether
When I first started vaping, I was buying e liquid with 36mg of nicotine. Anything less just didn’t seem to do it for me. I then gradually stepped down to 22mg, then 18mg. I’m now vaping 6mg.
It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but I haven’t been consciously trying to cut down on my nicotine intake, it’s just been a natural progression. I’ve been enjoying my vaping, much more than smoking as now I have different flavours to try. I made the leap from tobacco e liquids to different flavours a couple of years ago, and now I’m going through a sweet phase. I’ve dramatically cut down my nicotine intake without even being aware of doing it.
I think within the next year I’ll be down to 3mg e liquids. It’s not a dramatic leap then to take it right down to 0mg.
Zero Nicotine E Liquid
One of the biggest complaints about 0mg e liquid is the distinct lack of a throat hit. But depending on the size of your mod, and the type of e liquid you vape, you can get a decent throat hit from 0mg. The main thing is the gradual transition. If I vaped on a 36mg juice now, the throat hit would be so strong it would knock me off my feet, as I’m used to 6mg. So the throat hit from 3mg down to 0mg isn’t so great.
When you get down to vaping 0mg nicotine e liquids from 3mg, then the withdrawal should be much milder. The great thing about e liquid is you can mix them yourself. So you can mix some 3mg in with some 0mg if you want, and take yourself as low as 1mg. This is called ‘weening’ and by the time you can to zero nicotine then you shouldn’t have any withdrawal whatsoever.
If you’re happy vaping 0mg juices, then you can happily say you’re not addicted to nicotine anymore, and this is a huge accomplishment. You might still be addicted to the habit, but habits can be broken much easier than physical addictions.
I haven’t got to this point yet, and would love to speak with some 0mg vapers to see how they get on. I consider where I am now as a 6mg vaper from a 20 a day cigarette smoker a massive achievement from someone who was resigned to being a smoker for life. I’ve probably added a good few years on to my life, and the quality of my life is much better than it ever was when I was smoking.
As I mentioned, this is my own personal story on how I quit smoking, and I’m in no way saying that e cigarettes can make, or even help you quit. Everyone is different and we all need to find our own paths. But for me, vaping helped me quit smoking, and I couldn’t be happier.