Though addicted to alcohol and nicotine, Manoj (name changed) says that battle to get off cigarettes and beedis, that plagued him for nearly three decades, was the hardest thing he had to do. He narrates his story to The Hindu’s Mohit M. Rao :
At the age of 19, working as an apprentice in a refinery in Bombay, smoking was the cool thing to do. In 1968, I started taking menthol cigarettes on station platforms to “look cool”. This soon turned into actual cigarettes, and by 22, I was already puffing more than 20 cigarettes a day. I was young then, and not aware of the ill-effects. I don’t think I would have cared if someone had told me. I became an alcoholic, and the number of cigarettes I consumed increased.
By 27, I knew I had to quit. There were symptoms of chest congestion. I shifted to beedis hoping to quit cigarettes. I got addicted to beedis. Alcoholism cost me my job. With no money, I was scraping around and smoking stubbed out cigarettes.
By 31, I quit alcohol, and with that, my dependence on tobacco increased. I was doing around three cuts of beedis (each cut is 25 beedis) daily, and was rolling beedis myself.
People shouted at me, told me about cancers. I had known that; there was a joke that cancers stop cigarette addiction; it was scary, but my addiction ignored it anyway.
I started to feel tired all the time, with a congestion of the chest. And yet, quitting was difficult. I needed to smoke to sleep in the night. I tried reducing the number, but failed. I tried telling myself, that I’ll restrict it to one cigarette after every meal, but I relapsed into multiple cigarettes.
Around 12 years after quitting alcohol, when I was 43 or so, I decided to let go my smoking addiction. It was very difficult; the urge was always there. During the first six months the urge was very strong. Even three years later, the urge remained. Seeing other people smoke triggered the urge. I told myself that I’ll take one puff tomorrow, and when tomorrow came, I would defer the cigarette again. Betel nut, cardamom, and cloves replaced cigarettes.
It’s been around 20 years since I last took a drag. The urge is no more there.
I believe that if the effects of tobacco consumption are more graphic – showing lung cancer, mouth cancer, people without throats – people will quit because of fear, and fewer persons will take up smoking or chewing tobacco.