Editorial: Hard to quit but worth the effort

By Rosie Dawson-Hewes


As we begin another year, staring down the barrel of 2016 with all its fresh promise and hope, the inevitable list of resolutions begins to form. Whether or not you bother with them, or stick to them, there are always a number of usual suspects on most people's resolutions list: Eat better, exercise more, drink less, stress less, quit smoking.

With a 10 per cent tax increase on cigarettes coming into force yesterday, it's likely a few more people will be aiming for that last one this year. Smokers will now be paying about $20 a pack for budget cigarettes. That's a dollar per smoke. Of that $20, about $16 is tax.

I have mixed feelings about smokers. I used to smoke. Like many, I started young. I was 14, all my friends smoked and it was something to do before and after school while waiting for the bus, or class to start. I don't think it was peer pressure or anything like that. I don't even remember making a conscious decision to start, I just did. Like I said, it was just something to do while we killed time at the train station or whatever.

I never smoked a lot while at school, maybe three or four a day maximum. Unless we were out on the weekends, then we'd smoke more. But I mostly smoked during school hours. I used to jokingly refer to my woollen school blazer as my smoking jacket.

I remember hiding it from my parents, I knew they'd be disappointed. But we had all the tricks down pat, even knowing that you could smoke in the shower if you were careful not to get it wet - the smoke would be sucked out of the house with the steam and the butt could go down the drain. The thought of that grosses me out now. I was right about my parents being disappointed. When my mother finally caught me in the act in my last week of seventh form the only thing I remember her saying was "I thought you were smarter than that". She was right, of course. I should have been.

And yet, I still didn't quit. I smoked on and off through most of my university years. I remember quitting once, not smoking for nearly a year, only to start again while travelling through Turkey. In Europe everyone smoked. It was in every cafe, every bar, every street corner. Between that and the super-cheap duty free, it became too much and I caved, starting up again. I barely ever had a cigarette by itself. It was always with something - a coffee, a wine, a group of friends. It was very much a social thing. Or something to do while waiting for a friend. And I justified it as being one of very few vices, just as 18-year-old Tauranga smoker Pashinces Peka did in our story yesterday.

That pairing, of cigarettes with something, was partly what made it hard to quit. When I quit, I dearly missed the social aspect of heading outside with your friends for a yarn and a smoke. It was like being a member of a club. So I can understand why some are loath to quit.

But quit I did. My mother was again the final nail in the coffin, or cigarette packet as the case may be. That and my impending wedding. I quit, cold turkey, a month before I got married. For two reasons - firstly, I did not want to smoke in my Ralph Lauren dupion silk wedding dress (turns out my love of clothes trumped my love of tobacco) and secondly, I'd convinced my mother I'd quit a year before and I didn't want to disappoint her. Again.

I'll be honest, quitting wasn't easy. I craved it for years afterward. It will be seven years on April 9. And I'm glad to say I no longer crave it and I'm exceedingly glad I quit.

In some ways I think if people want to smoke, it's their choice. But I think we should do everything we can to discourage children from starting because, at 14, I was still a child. But for adults? It's their decision, isn't it?

What about the burden on the health system, I hear you ask? The Taxpayers' Union's executive director Jordan Williams said that public health experts were saying the tax was already more than three times the cost to the health system of smoking. So they're covering their own costs.

But then part of me thinks, what if your parent, or grandparent, could have an extra 10 years with you by not smoking? Of course, that's what you'd choose. That's what we'd all choose.

While the cost is prohibitive, it's easy to justify a cost. I spend nearly $3000 a year on my beloved daily coffee, but am okay with it because it's part of my daily ritual. And at $20 a pack, if you haven't quit already, higher taxes are not going to change that.

I think the driver has to be something bigger, something more emotive and more personal. For me, it was about my mother (and wedding photos that last a lifetime!). Maybe for you it's your kids, or grandkids? Maybe it's so you can exercise more or breathe easier?

Whatever the reason, I hope you do. It's a long, hard road to give up, but I'm sure you'll feel better for it. I know I do.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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