Cigarettes have killed more people than even the most lethal weapons ever created. The habit is nasty and addictive but can be given up if there is a will. Aliya Bashir talks to a few who have quit smoking.
Smoking and nicotine addiction is one of the most serious health hazards facing humanity. In Kashmir it is a more serious problem and is having a terrible impact on the general public health with an exponential rise in pulmonary oedema and lung cancer cases attributed to prolonged smoking.
Doctors say almost all smokers try to give up smoking at some point of time mostly when their bodies can’t take it. But there are many who quit smoking on their own for various different reasons. Doctors say anybody who wants to quit smoking, can, with a bit of will power and resoluteness.
Gulzar Ahmed Wani, 56, is the chief manager J&K Bank, Ganderbal branch and had been a chain smoker for 38 years, puffing more than two packs a day. “Quitting smoking is the best gift that I’ve ever given to my family. Whenever I have a craving, I remember why I quit and how difficult it was to kick the habit,” he said.
Gulzar has been living a better life since quitting smoking. “After I quit smoking; I look at smokers with pity now. Today I can judge the bad and awful odour that smoking brings,” he said.
Gulzar says that whenever he used to smoke at home, his family members would leave the room or cover their noses. “My mouth used to smell of cigarette smoke all the time. Most of the male colleagues at the bank used to smoke and I, being a smoker myself, was unable to stop them,” he says.
The motivation to give up smoking came to him at a funeral, when many mourners were having a fag at the graveyard and a man asked them to not to smoke as a mark of respect to the dead. But no one paid any heed and instead was rebuffed by the smokers so much so that the person pleading with them not to smoke there had to leave the place.
“That day when I reached home, I was ashamed and feeling so bad for the person who was literally forced to leave the place. That was the day I kicked the most despicable bad habit of my life. I threw away the nine cigarettes still left in my pocket,” says Gulzar. “I consider the day when I quit smoking as the most important day in my life. I can never forget December 14, 2008.”
Gulzar says he has experienced priceless freedom since giving up cigarettes. “Being a slave is the worst experience that a person can suffer. Nicotine had dictated my life since I was in Matric. Every smoker is a slave and I have to admit I was also one of them for all those years,” says Gulzar. “In our friend circle we all took to it as fashion.”
A person quitting smoking can have effects on other smokers and they too try to give up. “My smoker colleagues were moved on seeing me, a chain smoker, giving up cigarettes that they too followed. Our (bank) branch is a no-smoking zone now,” Gulzar said.
Most of the smokers who kicked the habit say that if initial attempts fail, one should keep trying.
For Dilshada (name changed) she was hooked to cigarettes after three years of marriages when her husband was arrested and charged with theft, drinking and doing drugs. The strain in her family had set in earlier when her husbands business was not going on well.
“I had a love-affair and married without the consent of my family. My parents forsake me. However, everything was fine in the initial days of my married life. My in-laws loved me like my own parents as my own family had broken all relation with me,” she says.
Her husband had a good business but that started to go down. He sold all her possessions and if anybody would try to stop him he would resort to violence. Dilshada says she would come home late in the evening and beat her and their son over petty reasons.
“One night I could not sleep for the whole night. I was weeping throughout the night. My dreams of a happy life were shattered. No one from my family came forward as they held me responsible for the disaster in my life,” Dilshada says. “As I had no one to share my problems with and I lit up a cigarette for the first time in my life.”
For the next seven years, she smoked regularly until a day she saw her four-year-old son playing with the cigarettes and imitating his mother. “That incident was a reality check for me. I knew I had to quit. I didn’t want to ruin my son’s life,” Dilshada said.
She says that there were times when she had to borrow money to buy cigarettes. “Those moments were shameful. I would buy cigarettes from different shops and not from a single shopkeeper fearing that they would know about my smoking,” Dilshada says.
She says that she had spent a lot of money on purchasing those ‘filthy cigarettes’ and regrets wasting the money. “Since I quit smoking, I am no longer stressed. There is no dependence. Tomorrow I can proudly stop my son and keep him away from cigarettes,” she beams.
Syed Nazia, who works with an international NGO and counsels people on quitting smoking says that it is important to read the smoker’s mind and counter every argument against quitting.
“Those who are hooked to smoking should understand that smoking is entering into trouble by choice. Whenever a smoker has a puff, he feels peaceful and when the nicotine leaves his body, he feel awful and he again smokes to calm himself,” Nazia says. “A smoker never attains peace of mind as long as his life is dictated by the addiction. He will only find the peaceful state once he quit smoking.”
Nazia says that giving up smoking is achievable as every year hundreds of people quit smoking successfully. “It may take more than a few attempts after months or years of lighting up, but with diligence the habit can be kicked off. Giving up smoking can reduce the risk of developing many diseases associated with smoking,” she says.
Within 10 to 15 years of quitting, the risk of heart and lung diseases comes down almost to that of a non-smoker.
The reasons for taking up smoking, Nazia says, vary from person to person. However, some most common reasons are peer pressure, imitating parents, boredom and the urge to experiment.
Ghulam Rasool Khar, 50, says that he would always be found with a cigarette in his mouth. At the age of 10, while apprenticing at a woodcarver he started to dragging at a hubble bubble. “I used to have a puff in absence of my master (mentor). After some years we used to share hubble bubble and cigarettes,” he says. “It was madness. In both happiness and sorrow we used to supply our body with nicotine as much as possible.”
As Ghulam Rasool got married he started his own wood-carving unit. “By then I would smoke three cigarette packets in a day until my health started deteriorating,” Ghulam Rasool said. He developed a severe mouth infection and for two months any spicy food would leave a burning sensation in his mouth.
“The illness provided me with a chance to quit smoking. I regained my confidence to mingle with non-smokers and I never felt so free in my entire life. My family encouraged me and I quit smoking once for all,” he says.
Initially, Ghulam Rasool faced many problems in getting rid of smoking. So he tried mint chewing gum and paan (betel leaf). “The foul odour and filth of cigarettes became a memory of the past and I can’t understand how I was a slave of smoking for 15 years before I finally quit and regained my freedom. Apart from the health benefits, I think being free is most important experience that I feel,” he said.
Being a chain smoker for ten years, Arshid Rasool was not even thinking of quitting. Saving money or health benefits or even social obligation were no good reasons for Arshid to think of quitting smoking.
“Smoking was such an integral part of my life that I was not able to imagine waking up in the morning without having a puff,” he says. “My girlfriend gave me an ultimatum that if I didn’t quit smoking she won’t have any relationship with me. I had once told her that I can do anything for her. She cashed this opportunity and motivated me to quit.”
Twenty-seven-year old Arshid, who works in a software company is happy and healthy since he quit smoking four years back.
Dr. Javaid Malik, a pulmonologist at SKIMS says that people who want to quit can seek help from doctors and counsellors to get rid of the nicotine addiction. “We have nicotine chewing-gums and bupropion tablets available in the market to give Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) which releases nicotine into the bloodstream without the cancer-causing substances found in cigarettes,” he says.