My last cigarette
Michael talks about how stigma affects smokers, 10 years after giving up.
10 years ago this month, I smoked my last cigarette.
I’d given up so many times… then started again… then given up. One day I’d had enough of starting again.
I can’t remember what changed for me that time. It was a few months after my father passed away, and maybe I was just more conscious of my mortality. I didn’t plan it much. I’d just had enough.
People don’t understand
Many people who have never smoked don’t understand how hard it is to quit.
Smoking is a vicious and nasty addiction. And when I started, smoking was normal. Sure, everyone knew the risks by then - especially the tobacco companies. You could smoke on the bus, on the train, even the London Underground.
I remember a teacher at school who would spark up in the canteen. In my first job, everyone in the office smoked. I remember lines of smoke rising from ashtrays on each person’s desk.
We have come a long way. Smoking is no longer normal or accepted. A lot of the change is because of organisations like the British Lung Foundation.
I could tell you all my tips for giving up but there’s already loads of good advice out there. But I would prefer to talk about the stigma that affects smokers.
In my work at the British Lung Foundation, I have met many people living with lung conditions. Sometimes it is caused by smoking, sometimes not. But does that matter?
I met someone who was told to smoke a cigarette by a doctor back in the 1950s and ended up with a habit. I met someone else who was given cigarettes with his rations when he was in the army. Someone else worked in sales and was given cartons of cigarettes to share with clients.
Smoking was so normal for so much of the 20th century. Footballers, royalty and movie stars all smoked.
And lots of normal people smoked. People like me and you. If anyone is to blame, then let’s point the finger at the tobacco industry that made billions by poisoning people for a century.
Instead, smokers are expected to shoulder the blame. I think this is partially - probably mainly - the reason that lung diseases do not get the investment or attention they deserve from the public or from the health service.
People are being let down
I gave up 10 years ago. In that time, deaths from heart disease have tumbled - but the number of people dying from lung disease has barely changed.
People with lung disease in the UK are being let down.
I know first hand how hard it is to stop. Does it matter why people start? Is it their fault? No, of course not.
Let’s stop the stigma and start investing in lung disease.
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