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Writers - Paul Matthews, Nick Laird, Allie Cherry, James Whyte, Alan Surgeon, Linda Thompson, Ann Mariott, Paul Robertson. Edit and Design - Brian Houston



Okay - before you flick the page, this isn’t an anti-smoker rant. We’ve got an amazing capacity (and by ‘we’ i mean smokers - “my name’s brian houston and i smoke - can i sit down now”) to blind-spot anything that might make us doubt our choice to smoke. James whyte’s done self-deception, guilt and, finally, a little book with a whole lotta cred.

Smoking Picture

“No thank you, I don't smoke.” I felt a stab of shock when those words fell casually from my mouth, for the first time in ten years.

It wasn't so much to do with the fact that I'd just turned down a cigarette in a very smoky bar, anyone quitting smoking will have to do that at some point. No, what surprised me was how painless these words were. No regret. I realised that I actually saw myself as non smoker. That was eight months ago.

I've tried to stop smoking more times than I can remember, and always ended up cracking under the pressure. Usually within a week or so. Followed by that crushed, desperate feeling of going back to the local newsagent for that pack of recidivist smokes. I know that feeling of gingerly pulling the fag packet out in front of other smoker friends to be met with knowing nods of “Ah, 'see you've caved in again! Never mind, eh?” I've been through several of those all time lows of telling myself that I might as well just accept that I'm always going to be a smoker and there's no point fighting it and making myself miserable. Suffice to say, my previous attempts of stopping have been nothing short of hell on earth.

I had my first cigarette when I was 18. Being no stranger to clichés, it was immediately after a sex session (which incidentally, was pretty mind blowing as I remember it). “Cigarette? After sex? Hell yeah. That's what you're meant to do…” I did everything in my power to make it look as though this was not my first - like I smoked after sex all the time.

So ended my lifelong resistance to what I had called the “death sticks”. But I was a student. I hung out in trendy coffee bars reading pretentious books.

I looked cool. I was cool. Smoking was cool. Well, the occasional one, anyway. The occasional cigarette here or there won't kill you. I could keep it under control. And that wasn't particularly difficult only a dickhead would let himself “get hooked”.

Nobody ever sets out to develop a nicotine dependency, and I spent the next ten years wanting to go back and beat the shit out of that 18 year old.

One promise I made to myself before I quit was that I wasn't going to turn into one of those awful “born again non smokers” you know the sort: evangelistic and patronising, sneering at you and your filthy habit. For my entire career as a smoker I had been inclined to agree that these people are the worst sort of anti smoker far worse than those who have simply never started and can't see why anyone would start in the first place. So when my editor asked me to write something about giving up smoking I was slightly apprehensive. I'm quite happy being a non smoker, but it doesn't particularly bother me if others smoke around me. I'm on no sort of mission to convert anyone. Each to their own.

And yet, thinking about it, if anyone were to say to me that they wanted to stop smoking I think it would be pretty wrong not to recommend the method that worked for me.

A friend suggested a book: “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking” by Allen Carr, with the words “this book costs the same as a pack of twenty - even if it only makes you smoke twenty less cigarettes, it will have paid for itself”. It made sense to me, so I found it online and bought it.

Given my previous experience; to say I was sceptical would have been a massive understatement. He makes some pretty tall claims about his “unique” method that it has a 95% success rate, that there is no weight gain, that stopping doesn't mean deprivation. He claims that scare tactics don't really work in the long term (and as I've worked in HIV prevention, I was inclined to agree on that one) as by and large every smoker in the country has a very good idea of how dangerous it is.

But the one think I just refused to swallow was his claim that giving up smoking is not only easy, but fun. Absolute nonsense what the hell did he think he was trying to put over on me? That was the main reason I read his book cover to cover. Suddenly, it wasn't so much about wanting to quit; I wanted to find that one point where his argument fell to pieces, so I could say “Hey Allen, you slimy con merchant your book's full of shit!” With every page I turned I hoped to see some glaring leap of logic, or some twisted and cynical psychological trick.

Just as well really I needed a reason to plough through this book. One thing about Allen Carr, for all the good stuff I might say about him: his style of writing annoyed the hell out of me. There's something of an American TV evangelist about him. At a guess, I'd say he's a bit fond of himself, too. He comes across as one of those cheery motivated sales people I find impossible to trust.

All of this was reason for me to concentrate on every single word analyse every point. I couldn't possibly let him be right.

The other annoying thing was that as I reached the end of every chapter, I had to concede that it had a perfectly valid point, one that I couldn't really argue against. And so, I would turn to the next, expecting it to contain his downfall. In a nutshell, that's how the book works he takes away every single excuse you give yourself for not quitting; “I enjoy smoking”, “I choose to smoke”, “smoking relieves stress and aids relaxation”, “now isn't a good time to stop” “smoking is a habit”, “smoking requires willpower to quit” … etc. Every one of these statements I would have agreed with wholeheartedly as a smoker - but now? Nah…

And the best bit… he pretty much orders you to try and keep smoking as you read. You will simply reach a point where you stop going for the packet, he says. “Too good to be true” I thought. I had a mental picture of me smoking my last cigarette, a momentous and deeply personal occasion. Then valiantly, stoically even, I'd stub it out and face the rest of my life without letting myself spark up.

I eventually gave away my half empty pack realising that in two weeks it hadn't even occurred to me to finish it.

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Core is a partnership project representing the LGBT community in Scotland. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the partners. However, if they're witty, intelligent and insightful - they probably are. If you flicked through this mag, saw a photie and made an assumption about someone's sexuality - then you're about ten years behind what we're trying to do here. Click the mag off and walk away. Accurate at going online time, but hey, we didn't get this sarky without making mistakes.