Karoline Tamati: Stopping easier than you think

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When the R&B diva known as Ladi6 agreed to be the face of a smokefree campaign, she had a dirty little secret. She was still a smoker. In a heartfelt open letter to young Kiwis Karoline Tamati tells how she and her mum kicked the habit of a lifetime.

Karoline Tamati says she spent her life surrounded by smoke and had her first cigarette at 9. Only later did she realise that smoking made her feel worse.
Karoline Tamati says she spent her life surrounded by smoke and had her first cigarette at 9. Only later did she realise that smoking made her feel worse.

I was born in the 80s with a mother who chained-smoked most of my life in our house, around our house, in the car, while blow-drying our hair.

She smelled of the sweet scent of tobacco and whatever perfume she would heavily douse herself in to mask the tobacco, and I would always in the future be reminded of her wherever this combination happened to be.

I tried my first ciggy at 9 years old. I wanted to know what it was like, so one day (and this really is an awfully disgusting and embarrassing thing to admit) a man I was walking behind after school threw his lit cigarette butt on to the footpath, leaving it without stubbing it out.

I picked it up and took a drag, then proceeded to choke for half an hour after, dry-retching from the foul taste that now filled my entire face. That was my first puff.

One year, as a teen, I was caught smoking on local television. I was hiding, trying to sneak one in while on a school holiday programme.

Little did I realise I was being filmed for a documentary on teens and smoking.

It aired on television. Everyone saw it.

My parents decided to do three things: first, I was kicked off the holiday programme. Then I was forced to tell them who my friends were I smoked with. Dad took me in his work van to all their parents' houses and one by one told them all I had been smoking cigarettes with them. This move made me particularly popular.

The third was making me smoke in front of them while deciding my own punishment.

This is a parental trick of intimidation and fear, of course. I cried like a baby exclaiming I couldn't do it, then I proceeded to imprison myself inside my house for two years.

It's the kinda conversation that went a bit like this:

Parents: "Well what kind of punishment do you think you should get then, considering all your deceit?"

Me: "I should be grounded, no TV, no going out with friends, no telephone?"

Parents: Scoff. "And for how long for?"

Me: "Um ... one year ... (parents look at each other) ... I mean two years?"

Parents: "Okay. No TV, no going out with friends, no telephone, you can go to school and then you come straight home."

After ratting out my mates to my dad I didn't really have any friends left anyway, so that was that, and you might ask, did it stop me smoking? Not at all.

After those traumatic two years, I continued to smoke on and off until eight months ago. You see, smoking has had a very long, very close relationship with me.

You could say, right from birth. Smoking saw me through the good, the bad, the ugly.

Thing is, it wasn't until I finally stubbed out the last ciggy for good did I truly appreciate that in those darkest moments where the ciggy was the friend I turned to for silent support, I realised in fact, the ciggy almost always made things worse.

It made me want to smoke more once I had one, even though I hated the taste and the smell.

They made me poor, made me self-conscious of smelling, self-conscious of my breath, and dizzy sometimes, too.

We all know it's bad for your health. We are all plainly aware of the most common sense fact: inhaling smoke of any kind on a regular daily basis throughout the day and night, year in and year out, can never be good for you.

No smoker would happily be okay about their child smoking at 9, as I did with my first puff, or at 13, as I was when I made my television debut.

My thing is, no one tells you that smoking is a thing that you can get by without, that it is possible to go through the day without missing cigarettes.

I tried a million times to kick it, often by using willpower alone, but I felt destined to live my life as a smoker. I thought it was the hardest thing in the world to give up smoking.

The honest truth is, it isn't, but I needed more than willpower. I needed the necessary tools. I needed education on smoking, self-determination - and to stop putting that drug nicotine into my bloodstream as soon as possible.

Mum, after 50 years of smoking, finally puffed away her last ciggy about two months ago.

She cried her whole first smokefree week. Since, though, she has experienced all the bells and whistles of kicking a 50-year habit, of gaining a new lease on life. Her incessant coughing has stopped, and she can happily walk around the supermarket, something she found difficult before because of poor circulation in her feet.

Her skin has become more radiant and healthy looking, and these days she smells only of whatever perfume she is using.

And the most crazy thing is, she doesn't even miss it, not a bit.

For me, after 15 years of smoking, no bells or whistles blew when I stopped. I just know I'm not injuring myself and I'm no longer worried about my health. I don't want to be the poster girl for non-smoking, I don't want to judge those who smoke, or sound self-righteous.

You'll know when you know it's time to kick the thing, and let me just let you in on this secret no one seems to tell anyone. It's easier than you think.

- with love, Ladi

- Herald on Sunday

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