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"It is as if wrinkles which were about to form have stopped"

by Jane Shortall

Well, to begin with, life after quitting cigarettes was tickety-boo, all roses.

The first thing is the freedom, the not having to endlessly check, just in case the occasion goes on and on, if you have a second pack stashed away in the bag or pocket.

No longer a slave to the cigs, you also leave behind the utterly awful smell of stale tobacco that always clings to hair and clothes, and gradually, the odour that seemed to linger forever in handbags and coat pockets goes too.

Skin improves no end, its healthier condition obvious, even to people who only know me since coming to live in France. One woman put it like this; it is as if wrinkles which were about to form have stopped. You now look so good. Well, thats a bit of a lie, but she meant well.

At a dental visit, the hygienist professed herself thrilled by the lack of brown stains on the back of my teeth. Then, during an eye test, the optician remarked that I must have had a good diet during my years of smoking, and went on to tell me a frightening story of how each pull on a cigarette does fresh damage to the eye.

So, here I was, having kicked the useless habit, living life to the full and feeling good, believing I would carry on, not a care in the world, for the rest of my days.

Then, one night, I suddenly, for no reason, had great difficulty breathing. This was a completely new sensation for me and I staggered out onto our balcony overlooking the hills here in southern France, gasping, trying desperately to take in some of the warm night air. I was more than a little frightened; I was terrified. It seems crazy now that at some point I just lay down on a sofa and eventually fell asleep, exhausted. It didnt enter my head to call the services.

The following morning a friend, a retired nurse, appalled at my reaction to what had happened, insisted on my seeing the doctor. All the bloods were done, my heart checked out and I was referred to a lung specialist. The results of his tests showed damage to some tubes. Asthma — not very serious — was diagnosed and I would need to use an inhaler, at least for six months when we would do the lung tests again.

Life has changed a little. I get breathless walking up a hill, which never happened before. It is more maddening, more annoying than anything else, the knowledge that I have probably done this to myself over the years.

It doesnt matter how we carelessly toss it off as not being dangerous — in most cases, the problems caused by smoking will make themselves known at some point.

One of the things which my generation, wrongly, thought was oh well, look at Uncle Albert — he smoked since he was ten and lived to be ninety.

Well, yes, maybe he did, but the bald fact is that most of his friends were long dead, and good old uncle had looked and sounded a wheezy ninety since he was in his fifties. Those Uncle Alberts, who we used as the great excuse for smoking, were not really examples of great living, just long living.

Life since my breathing fright, life has by no means been all misery, and, after such a long time smoking, it was surely silly of me to expect that my health would not be in any way impaired by the habit?

Can there be anyone left who still has difficulty understanding the health issues? Are there still people who imagine they look cool. Those days are long gone.

From a purely financial angle, who would not be pleased, in these recessionary times, to have a couple of hundred dollars extra each month, as well as the other benefits of stopping smoking?

Up to $200 extra in the purse each month can be the monetary gain. Now, is that not a nice round sum to play around with, a pretty decent figure that could be either saved for a holiday, or used every month to treat yourself or a loved one to something frivolous, a special treat?

While I admit to having enjoyed smoking, I would as soon jump off my roof as light up another. The gains from stopping outweigh all the old arguments, especially if, like me, you stop overnight and thats that.

No patches, no Gurus, no hypnosis, no fake cigs, no cold turkey. The decision is made using your own will and all that follows is freedom.

We were in charge of our own habit; we are in charge of breaking it. Its that simple. I dont want to force anyone to stop if they dont want to, but I do prefer to live in a smoke free zone — I had no idea how much cleaner and scented it could be.

And that is where the difficulty arises, because I am married to someone who sees cigarettes as an extension of their arm and hand, who I imagine still has a secret idea that he is a character from a film, Rick from Casablanca maybe, lighting up and looking cool. But that is a whole other article, the details of which Im not sure I want to air in public


© 2009 Jane Shortall for


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