I smoked my last lovely cigarette at midnight on July 21 last year.
There is a sentence I thought I'd never write. It is a sentence that plenty of people who know me thought I'd never write. Even now, more than seven months after I ended it with the fags, there are friends and colleagues who are sore amazed that I no longer smoke.
This is because it was generally considered that I was (my small size and lack of 10-gallon hat notwithstanding) something of a Marlboro Man, a natural-born smoker.
Yet here I am, the very model of a modern role model in this age of smug self-denial: a heavy smoker, a 20-year veteran of the cancer sticks who has, with the help of nicotine replacement and the Lord God, reformed his evil ways and become a Born-Again Non-Smoker. Actually I am joking about the Lord God and the Born Again, but the rest is all true.
For those at all interested in my method of giving up, I did not read Allen sodding Carr's sodding book. I did not have acupuncture, hypnotherapy, aromatherapy, nor rub stinging nettles on my privates or any of that hare-brained hippie rubbish. I did not quit the booze. I did not see a shrink. And, as I am an atheist, I didn't fall on my knees and pray to an imaginary friend in the sky. I simply signed up to quit.org.nz, got my free - that is taxpayer-funded - patches and lozenges and followed the instructions on the box. Oh, and I didn't smoke. Not even once.
This, I should say, is the real secret to giving up smoking: don't smoke. Not even once.
It helps to have some motivation too. This, of course, depends on individual circumstances. For parents, they may use the idea they want be around to see little Johnny grow up and have little Johnnies of his own. For those in a relationship, it may be about giving up for your partner's sake as well as your own. For the individual, it might be about not having your clothes, hair and home stink of filthy tobacco smoke - and not dying at 50.
For me, it was about some of these things. But mainly it was all about the money. It is self-evident that the price of fags influences smokers to either smoke less or quit. This would be why public health specialist and eternal enemy of the Evil Weed, Dr Murray Laugesen said last week that his (with others) most recent research indicated that if the government jacked up the price of a packet of ciggies to $40, three-quarters of smokers would quit.
That's as may be. However, it wasn't the price of fags that motivated me to give them up, it was how much of the price of fags was going to those grasping thieves in Wellington.
A back-of-an-envelope calculation suggested that, by smoking a pack of cigarettes everyday, I was paying the Government at least $3500 more in tax each year than I had to. Outrageous! Egregious! Insufferable! So I set a date and I quit paying all that extra tax.
However, nearly eight months on I am, to some degree, in two minds about July 21.
People (only occasionally now) ask me if I am feeling better to which my answer is "not particularly". I had a now-and-then cough prior to giving up that is long gone. So that's good. But I never, for example, got much puffed walking up hills; in fact I used to smoke while tramping up hill in the bush!
I can now smell with much greater accuracy, which is a blessing at dinner but a curse on public transport, and I have of course saved rather a large amount of money that, for some reason, I can't seem to find in my bank account.
These things are, generally at least, positive. It was while walking along Queen St one recent lunchtime that I discovered the harmful effects of being a Born-Again Non-Smoker. As I walked I look up to see a fellow walking past smoking and I found myself thinking, "Poor bastard, look at him, puffing his way to an early grave." My next thought was, "Oh shit, I've just become the lowest of the low: a smug self-denier." It has occurred to me since that I had already been looking at the smokers hanging around building doorways and on the pavement with a similar self-satisfied scorn and that when I got into lifts and other confined spaces and smelled the stink of stale of tobacco smoke I'd found myself feeling annoyed.
As a middle-aged, middle-class, white male, I am surrounded in daily life by people who are obsessed with the new religion, their own health and wellbeing. They might all want to live in a clean, green, organic, macrobiotic, gluten-free, low sugar, low salt and low fat lycra-clad world of free range lettuces and ultra marathon-running, a world that turns its nose up at having an extra glass of wine and wants to ban the smoking of tobacco altogether, but I certainly don't.
Oh, I know that smoking kills. The death toll is around 5000 a year. This is unimpeachably grim. But then so is the price of alcohol: up to 1000 deaths, half of all serious crime related to it, up 70 per cent of weekend admissions at A&E because of it, and an annual $4.9 billion (in 2005/06) cost to the country overall. Yet the self-appointed gatekeepers of what is right aren't writing columns about banning booze (though this may come).
Of course it's about more than smoking's death toll for the clean, green, organic macrobiotic, gluten-free, etc health fascists. There is a moral dimension to their censure too that goes something like: smoking implies addiction and addiction implies moral failing; a smoker is, therefore, a pitiful sinner who must be saved from himself.
I wholly disagree - even if I did catch myself drifting toward this position on Queen St that recent lunchtime.
Well, I promised to do better. I don't miss smoking at all. I am glad I gave up, even if I am sad that I no longer - in my mind's eye anyway - look as cool as Sinatra or Bogart or Bond.
I am an ex-smoker, but it was my choice to give up. It is the smoker's choice to keep smoking.
So leave them alone.