MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku



10 APRIL 2024

Sunday, December 31, 2023

How I quit smoking and stayed clean for 40 years


Here we are, on yet another last day of another year among the many we’ve been through. And here’s hoping for many more before our curtains fall.

When I was young, I used to care a lot about such days. I’d be out gallivanting with friends and we’d have a ball of a time – though, try as I might, I can’t remember much any more.

However, what I do remember is one particular New Year’s Eve exactly 40 years ago. But first, some background.

I used to smoke. Mostly unfiltered Winston cigarettes in soft packets which you could roll into the sleeve of your T-shirt to look like James Dean. Or, more likely like a dork in my case, because my skinny arms could have allowed a whole carton to fit in my sleeve.

I started smoking when I was about to enter university. I went travelling all over Europe in a borrowed car with some school friends. They all smoked, as almost everybody did back then, proud of having the right and the means to kill themselves and those around them with cigarettes.

After taking up smoking on that trip, I continued through university and upon starting work back in Malaysia. Even then, I knew it was not good for my health. My father was a heavy smoker and ended up with all the usual smoking-related ailments. And it’s likely my mother faced similar health problems because of all the secondhand smoke.

Years later my father quit on doctor’s orders though when he did sneak a smoke, he tried to hide it from his adult children. What a turn of events – the strictest parent I ever knew, whose words were supposed to be law, hiding from his kids to smoke!

My father told me that when he was growing up in his Penang kampung in the 1930s, there was basically nothing by way of fun or entertainment. No social media or cable TV and no running water or electricity, not to mention a lack of money and job opportunities.

Smoking was one of the very few things that teenagers those days could do that wouldn’t get them arrested, even if the only cigarettes they had were rolled-up “rokok daun” made from fried nipah leaves and cheap tobacco. But these were enough to make them feel like grown-ups.

I couldn’t help but be more sympathetic to my father once I’d heard his story. I was slightly asthmatic myself and knew I wouldn’t enjoy many more new years if I kept smoking. Every new year’s eve, I’d make a resolution to quit but, within mere days, I’d have broken it.

It puzzled me why I could last a whole month without a cigarette while fasting during Ramadan, yet returned to smoking afterwards as if nothing had changed. I later learned that perhaps the reason I kept failing was that I never really wanted to stop in the first place.

There’s some pleasure in smoking, especially when with friends, with a hot cup of coffee or when stressed. Back in my day cigarettes were cheap and there were fewer restrictions compared to now. Plus, almost everybody smoked at the time, including often a parent or two.

So, on New Year’s Eve 1983 I said goodbye to the useless resolution that I would quit. I went out that night and had the usual good time ushering in the new year.

But out of nowhere, I woke up the next morning, looked at myself in the mirror and told myself “no more cigarettes.” I quit smoking just like that: cold turkey and totally unplanned.

It was tough for a few weeks, but I haven’t touched a single stick since.

A friend said he once quit for 11 years but then got hooked again and went back to his old ways. I knew if I touched a cigarette again, I, too, would be lured back into addiction’s clutches.

Since then, I have managed to help a few friends quit, too. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done and I still feel a warm glow thinking about it now.

On the 1st of January 2024, it’ll be 40 years since I last touched a cigarette. Here’s to 40 more, many of which will likely only be lived because I quit all those years ago.

Do you want to quit smoking the “Adzhar Way” too? First, take your cigarettes and throw them into the rubbish bin. Right now. Don’t think and let your brain trick you into another failure.

Then tell your friends and loved ones you’ve quit smoking. Put pressure on yourself by committing to others who, because they love you, will police and hound you if you ever touch a cigarette again.

If all goes to plan, you’ll be able to celebrate a year of being cigarette-free on the 1st of January 2025. But you have to start that journey right now – don’t think, just do it. - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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