When I was younger, my friends used to joke that I would be the first person they knew to die of lung cancer, with such fervour did I smoke.
It wasn't so funny when some 10 years later I was still inhaling Marlboro Reds as though my life depended on it.
That was me: Marlboro Reds, Camel Filters, Lucky Strikes. The strongest cigarettes on the market, all day, every day. None of this half-hearted Dunhill Blue "I only smoke at parties" carry-on. I was dedicated.
It's impossible to explain why I felt compelled to smoke so much, or how I justified it to myself. I'd read the warnings and seen the images of gangrenous toes and emphysemic men spluttering their way to an early grave. I suppose, like many other heavy smokers, I just became very good at ignoring the blindingly obvious: if I keep this up there's a good chance I will die before my time. It hasn't been until writing this that I have tried to work out how much cigarettes have cost me over the years. My conservative estimate is, to my utter dismay, somewhere in the region of $30,000.
Of course I enjoyed smoking. I got immense satisfaction from that first cigarette in the morning and from that 5pm smoke as I left the office after a hard day. But it got to the point where the length of time between cigarettes was sometimes so short it gave me no pleasure. It satisfied some powerful subconscious craving.
I've tried many times and methods to quit smoking but I've found taking part in the Auckland University-Herald on Sunday Wero competition, in conjunction with my trusty e-cigarette (which I highly recommend, by the way) to be the most effective. Although every cigarette looked like manna from heaven for the first few weeks, I found having people around me who were going through the same thing to be most helpful.
I'm happy to report that I haven't had a cigarette for about three months now. Other participants from the Herald on Sunday's Wero team have had varying degrees of success. Senior reporter Russell Blackstock says he is "close but no cigar", having cut down considerably; Spy social editor Ricardo Simich has stopped completely, bar a few puffs on one or two occasions.
Smoking is a huge part of many people's lives and immensely difficult to give up. But it can be done, and it's worth it. Already I'm no longer wheezing and coughing, I have more energy and an extra few hundred dollars in the bank.
And now it's in the Herald on Sunday, there's no turning back.