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.
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. 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. 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.
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 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…
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 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.