Early days: The run up to, and yes, the cause of the habit which has killed me.

I am now sixty-eight years old. I want to take you on a journey, a journey travelling back, back through all of those sixty-eight years, and still, travelling further back through time. Travelling all the way to when my parents were themselves young, because that is when the events which were to shape so much of my life began.

It was just before the start of the Second World War: They were young and in love. They had been married for just over six years and had a son approaching five years old.

The boy’s name was John and the little fellow had endured a difficult time where a medical condition had seen him suffer painful treatment, but on this tragic day my Father had received word, John had been given the all clear.

John was outside the house playing on his tricycle …

It was also the case that, on that day, my Mother was in hospital – I do not know why – and my Father was looking after the little boy. John was outside the house playing on his tricycle, but then had gone down to the bus depot, just a stone’s throw away, to watch the buses – a reversing bus ran over him and he was killed.

I cannot even begin to understand the pain and the anguish and the guilt my parents felt, but, not long after, a man called at the house and offered them hope. This gentleman belonged to a fundamentalist religious sect and a large part of the doctrine of this group was that ‘good’ people, the ones who did as the sect dictated, would be reborn into a paradise here on earth – that my parents would see John resurrected, and in perfect health, and that they would all live forever, together in paradise.

It may be hard for some to imagine how, in my parents’ case, intelligent individuals could be convinced of this, but, when you consider their circumstance, it is not so very difficult at all.

And so, years later, my older brother was born, then after eighteen months, me, and eighteen months after that my little twin sisters.

So there we were, all six of us, a happy little family. No, I wish it might have been that way, but it was nothing like that. This was no fairy tale, indeed, the horror story was yet to end.

I grew up in an endless round of religious meetings, walking from door to door, day in day out, waking people up, disturbing them, spreading the gospel… more meetings… home bible study… and yet more meetings. But that was not the real reason for my unhappiness. That, I would not discover till years after.

And I was unhappy. But not because of the religion, the interminable boring meetings, knocking on doors, not because of Christmas days while I wandered the bitter, angry winter streets on my own when all other children were unwrapping presents and enjoying Christmas dinners; not because of meal times listening to my Father talk about the Bible and God, and God and the Bible and good and evil; the real reason was far subtler than that.

It was my Mother who gave me the clue. She would say, and she said it often, “Oh Bobby! You are so like John.”

And there it was, my Father could not stand me because I reminded him of my long dead brother.

And there it was, my Father could not stand me because I reminded him of my long dead brother. Unlike my other brother and dark haired sisters who had taken after their Father, I was fair and blue eyed and, like John, took after my Mother, and he could not live with it – His guilt dictated that he could not love me, and it went much further than that.

I was a wild one, always dreaming up adventures, and worse, trying to turn them into reality – I was always getting into trouble and as I grew older the beatings became more and more intense. It reached the stage that when I was ten or eleven years old, I would do something and he would take me upstairs and put me across his knee. I have to explain this in detail because it is so very important as to the reason I could not stop smoking years later.

The beatings always followed the same pattern.

The beatings always followed the same pattern. He would explain to me that what was to come was going to hurt him more than me and that this was for my own good. “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” he would quote. Then the beating would begin. He did not just smack me. He would hit, then wait… and wait… and smack and wait. And so it would go on and on and on with me pleading for it to stop while his heavy leathered hands hit me. I once looked in the mirror and my backside and upper legs were black with the beating. Not that it made me any better behaved.

And I started smoking.

I remember my first few cigarettes. The heady sensation as the nicotine took effect. More than this, it was a comfort. Very shortly the thought of the packet of cigarettes hidden in the garden shed was something to look forward to – those hidden private moments when I could smoke and dream of better things – I was hooked.

My father said, “You have made your bed. Lie in it and see how long you last.”

The day before my sixteenth birthday, I met Pat. By eighteen we were married and on our own. My father said, “You have made your bed. Lie in it and see how long you last.” Longer than him and that’s a fact. Over 50 years and we are still together.

Life was tough, but I had Pat, and I always seemed to have my cigarettes.

This is where an understanding of recent research into the addictive qualities of nicotine and cigarette smoking come into play. It is not straightforward. I have delivered a potted history of my life, and with the sole reason of putting into perspective, into a real-life scenario something that I think the world has to understand about cigarettes and smoking addiction.

Nicotine is no different. Enhanced by other materials, it catches you then remains in the background, but there is an awful lot more.

Nicotine has a crucial role in the initiation of the smoking habit. In cigarettes its power is enhanced by the presence of other chemicals. It is very powerful – it is the hook. When a novelist begins the ‘story’ it is absolutely essential that it starts with something powerful that also works with the other ingredients to catch the reader’s attention, and that it will remain, sometimes in the background, until the issue is resolved near the end of the novel. Nicotine is no different. Enhanced by other materials, it catches you then remains in the background, but there is an awful lot more.

It is not nicotine which causes the cravings which make it so very, very difficult to stop smoking.

It is something that goes right back into the history of the smoker. And, perhaps even further than that.

It is something which I have known for a long, long time. In the past, during quit attempts, and there have been many, as soon as I had decided to quit the cravings would start – hours before that ‘last’ cigarette. And again, at the fail point, before drawing on the cigarette, the cravings had already stopped. I already knew that it could not possibly be the nicotine. If it was nicotine addiction that would not be happening.

This sense was explained and confirmed as I listened to two speakers at the Global Forum on Nicotine, held in Warsaw (2016)

Few lessons learned from the Global Forum on Nicotine


The first speaker I want to mention is Dr Lynne Dawkins who is an Associate Professor of Psychology in the Addictions Unit at London South Bank University. Her topic at the GFN was, “Compensatory puffing behaviours in e-cigarette users: blood nicotine delivery and subjective effects.”

Dr Dawkins explained the role nicotine plays, how when given low nicotine cigarettes the smoker smokes more to make up the shortfall. She pointed out…

The important observation… was that people who smoke will compensate for reduced nicotine intake by increasing the amount of smoke they take in. They do this through a series of different mechanisms: longer, harder drags and more frequent puffs, so switching to ‘light’ or reduced nicotine containing cigs doesn’t appear to reduce toxicant exposure and may even increase it.Lynne Dawkins, Associate Professor of Psychology, London South Bank University.

However, another speaker, Dr Brian Carter had a different take on the topic: it appeared to conflict with Dr Dawkins statements – In actual fact both were accurate, just different parts of the same complex story.

Dr Carter’s presentation was entitled, “The power of non-nicotine factors in the habitual use of nicotine products.” I think that you will see the problem being presented here. One speaker saying, for the want of a better way to express it, that nicotine is a powerful ingredient in smoking addiction and the other speaker arguing that non-nicotine factors are the powerful ingredients.

But both are spot on.

Remember the hook? Remember the part it plays in the novel? That’s how it all starts.

Although nicotine moves into the background, it remains an important player. Try to cut it out and the smoker will crave for more, but is it anything to do with the actual chemical effect of the nicotine? It was to begin with, but that all changes.

How else can nicotine contribute to addiction?

Dr Carter, who is a clinical psychologist, explained that ‘many ingredients go into the hold that smoking has on the user. He pointed to the enjoyable features of smoking: Aroma and taste; the sensation of inhalation; the sight of the “lovely sinuous clouds;” the opportunity to hang out with other smokers, which often has positive social aspects. And that smoking provides multiple occasions for some regular deep breaths, a well-accepted relaxation technique.’ No wonder I enjoyed my cigarette during those miserable, early days: No wonder I continued to enjoy smoking.

And there is more: Dr carter explained how smoking behaviour becomes automized behaviour and exemplified this behaviour very effectively.

He did it thus: In the next line down, count the words but do not read the statement…

I told you not to read this.

And that is automized behaviour.

Reading is so automatized, he explained, that you can’t stop yourself from doing it. Automatized behaviours have the following characteristics: “They’re… fast, efficient, seemingly effortless, require little cognitive demand, largely occur outside of awareness, and they’re stimulus bound.”

That being the case, Dr Carter went on, explaining what happens when you try to stop smoking.

You’re forced to revert to non-automatized behaviours, which has the opposite characteristics. It slows you down, it’s effortful, it’s clumsy, it’s uncomfortable, it takes a great deal of cognitive effort and consumes your concentration, you feel off, you feel odd. And, it’s relentless because you still have all those cues coming at you, putting in motion those very automatized routines you’re trying to stop.Dr Brian Carter, Clinical psychologist, Director of Scientific Communications for the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives (CASAA).

You miss the taste. You miss the comfort of the smoking routine.

So there it is.

And doesn’t all of this fit into the fact that when a smoker starts at an early age there is a tendency for that individual to find it so much more difficult to quit in later years. I think the tobacco companies know this. They know that young people lurch from crisis to crisis and if they find smoking a comfort, they are then hooked, and in such a way that, say, a contented adult starting to smoke would never be.

So when I hear someone ‘laying off,’ broadcasting how they quit, cold turkey, I just shrug and say nothing. I know that the reason they found it so easy is the fact that when they started, smoking just did not mean so much to them in the first instance.

And, does all of this not explain the success of e cigarettes in helping people quit. If you have been thinking as you read, I do not need to explain any further. If you have not been thinking, I no longer want to.


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  1. Me and a friend too stopped smoking tobacco with help from e-cigarettes with nicotine. Now we use e-cigarettes without nicotine (almost 2 years). But cannot stop totally, we would fall back to tobacco smoking.

        • As a non-native English user I can understand the confusion here. There is no difference except that the term ‘e-cigarette’ is now dated and has been replaced with vaping, or rather, vaporiser. It is a semantic difference in that ‘e-cigarette’ has connotations of analog cigarettes so ‘vaping’ may be used for 1) greater accuracy, and 2) to distance vaping from smoking.

          • I would largely agree with Robert, but not completely. I don’t think the terms e-cig or e-cigarette are actually “dated” in terms of them falling out of use. Many vapers enjoy vaping with devices that strongly resemble cigarettes or cigars in their look and feel, and I believe that is something that will continue, particularly as those devices are improved to move the experience closer to that of smoking — though without the smoke obviously.

            Ultimately there will likely be a full range of styles commonly used by vapers, and it may even become common for people to vape at some times and smoke at others. It’s that last alternative that terrifies the Antismokers, but downplaying it will not move their weaponry away from vapers. See the ASDS link in my previous comment and a more “serious” treatment of the concept at http://www.sott.net/article/128768-Recognising+Anti-Smoking+Types and you’ll see that smokers and vapers largely share a common enemy out there. And for at least some of those “subgroups” of Antismokers, it won’t matter whether your vape device looks like a Virginia Slim or a contraption out of a steam-punk movie: they’ll still hate it and still attack those who don’t.

            – MJM

      • What I try to day is, without my e-cigarette I would fall back to tobacco smoking. Nicotine has not any role in this.

        (Sorry I´am Dutch, English is not my native language)

  2. 0MG! WTF! ” How much clearer can it be described, as Robert has managed to achieve?! ” Of course if one negates that 0 Mili-Grams Without The Fuss over nicotine exemplifies vaping leads to NRT Not Returning to Tobacco ” smoking ” ….. the number one health risk of the century! ( unless your prone to jumping out of an airplane at 25,000 feet without a parachute. Thanks for sharing your personal journey with us Robert. Bring an old school smoker also , I really do relate on many aspects of that old school mentality of ” QUT or DIE ” …. and that is not so automated as it seems. Great article. Have a great day.

  3. Robert, i can so find myself in this explanation! Thank you, comforting to see that we all as smokers , ex-smokers, vapers crave for the same thing. Relaxation, de-stressing, socialization, automized habbit. Those that help(-ed) us quit, thank you! Those that force us to quit and bully us about it… f*** you (excuse my language)

    I vape and i’m off a-cigs already for 8 months!!! Thank the universe for vaping!!! I no longer expose my surroundings with toxic smoke. Most important our 1,5 year old won’t be exposed anymore and our soon to see the first light daughter will never be exposed because of us! ( i got almost everyone around me to start vaping, so far al have not touched a single cig in months already. My mother inlaw was a 40+ year smoker and my father inlaw smoked cigars without inhaling the smoke and even he vapes now)

  4. Very well described! Yes, the Antismokers have distorted the role of nicotine in smoking and vaping. They’ve done so both out of simple ignorance and because they needed a simple, clear, “named” drug that they could then wave as an image in the air next to heroin and elicit our sympathy for “The Children” who were being “Addicted By Big Tobacco.”

    That imagery gave them a power that simply saying “Smoking is bad for your health!” or even “Smoking is bad for the health of people around you.” It allowed them to present smoking as a deliberate attack upon and threat to our children — the sort of attack and threat that we are biologically hardwired through evolution to respond to without the normal restraints and safeguards of thought and rational consideration.

    Unfortunately for vapers, the fact that many vapers enjoy nicotine in their vapes and the fact that vaping “looks” so much like the hated smoking, that same hardwired protective response is brought into play with so little thought that laws are being passed by wide margins declaring that any innocently flavored non-nicotine vapable liquid in the world needs to be defined as “A Tobacco Product.”

    The same tools, the same tricks, the same techniques and the same lies that so many, even among vapers, have accepted in their use against smokers, are now being used to pass ridiculous regulations, taxes, and prohibitions against vapers.

    Vapers should learn from and work with the smokers who have been fighting these people for the last 20, 30 or more years and not allow themselves to make the same mistakes or fall for the same ruses. Vapers can, and SHOULD, work together with smokers against the crazies out their that, for various reasons (*) want to eliminate us altogether in their “Endgame.”

    Keep on fighting!

    (*) See: http:/bit.ly/ASDShelp

    – MJM


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