Breakfast host on The Hits, columnist for nzherald.co.nz Life & Style.

Polly Gillespie: Why I really quit smoking

I should tell you I stopped smoking because it was dangerous and addictive. Photo / Supplied
I should tell you I stopped smoking because it was dangerous and addictive. Photo / Supplied

It would be far nobler of me to lie.

I stopped smoking 11 years ago, give or take a month. Like many of my vices, I was a late starter. I only started drinking for the "NZ booze hag" Olympic team at the age of 40. I started smoking professionally, aged 23.

As a young teen I'd had a go at smoking. It was fairly dismal and fleeting.

My uncle Brian owned the Hahei general store. We would spend summer holidays there and help out in the shop. I, being the sneaky little toad that I was, would nick cigarettes and smoke them down in the sand dunes. I seem to recall feeling cool and grown up. They were menthol. Gross. What in God's name was I thinking?

Fast forward three years and I'm travelling to Gisborne with my friend Raewyn on an NZ Rail Bus. We chain smoked all the way to the east coast. I felt far more car sick than cool.

Then I didn't smoke another cigarette until I was 22 or 23. I'd gotten into radio and I'm not sure of the correlation but I think I just did it because everyone else did.

Now here comes the part where I should lie. I should tell you I stopped smoking because it was dangerous and addictive. Because it was terrible for my health: cancer causing, the main cause of emphysema, or because it was ludicrously expensive. But that's not why I stopped smoking.

I stopped smoking because I'm vain.

I began to notice that older women who smoked looked like "older women who smoked". They had lined lips and a strange skin thing I hadn't noticed before: A dull, dirty, dead look to the skin. It was almost like the skin had given up and stopped regenerating. This was just my observation, of course. Then there was the hair. The hair on older smoking women looked dry, like it had been smoked in a fish smoker.

All in all, my general observation was women over 40 who smoked looked older, drier, and dustier. None of these things are necessarily true, but I spent a lot of time surreptitiously observing smokers and my observations were certainly enough to frighten the living nicotine addiction out of me.

I'm not sure why I wasn't scared into stopping by the thought of cancer, or any number of awful fates, but the pictures of eyes and lungs and toe tags had no effect on me whatsoever.

Shallow? Sure. Effective? Definitely. I am sure the health department has good statistics to prove that fear of cancer, heart disease and the cost of smoking, are the best deterrents. I wonder how many of "me" there are: The vain quitters.

I stopped smoking.

It's not really something you get congratulated for: quitting the fags because you're vain. But that's what did it. I stopped smoking to save myself from sullen skin syndrome.

It might not be health department approved but in my opinion warnings on cigarette packets would be far more effective if they advertised some of the following:

• Warning: Smoking will give you ugly little lines all around your mouth that make you look witchy.

• Warning: Smoking will make you look 60 when you're 45.

• Warning: Smoking dries out your hair. No one wants frizzy, dry hair.

• Warning: Smoking makes you look less attractive while you're huddled in a doorway trying to look inconspicuous.

• Warning: Smoking makes your skin look thick and dead.

• Warning: Smoking makes you 75 per cent less sexually desirable. (I made that statistic up completely.)

I haven't smoked in 11 years and I'm glad. My family has a horrible history of heart disease and strokes, but that's not why I gave up. I'm proof, perhaps, that any reason is good enough to stop.

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- NZME.

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Breakfast host on The Hits, columnist for nzherald.co.nz Life & Style.

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