Written by Jenny Eclair

Health

10 years smoke free

On National No Smoking Day, Jenny Éclair tells us how she kicked the habit. If she can do it, you can do it too.

quitting

I didn’t decide to give up smoking; smoking gave me up. Ten years ago I went into a chemist. A voice came out of my smoker’s mouth and said: “Do you have any nicotine patches?”

You could have knocked me down with an Embassy Number 6. Until that moment I had no intention of giving up smoking, despite my chest occasionally feeling like a burning pub carpet. I saw no reason to stop.

Smoking was a huge part of my identity. I was a Silk Cut girl since school, my first drag taken in the sand-hills at the tender age of 14. Huzzah, at last I had something to do with my hands when boys were around.

Throughout my teens I found smoking an aid to ‘copping off’. If you fancied a bloke you could ask for “a light” and a lingering glance over a smouldering matchstick would inevitably lead to a tobacco-stinking snog.

I smoked all through drama school and beyond; it was was part of my creative process. Whether I was waiting in the wings to go on stage or at home writing, I had a nicotine stain right down to my elbow.

I couldn’t imagine being able to do anything without a fag: smoking calmed me, smoking relaxed me, smoking focused my brain, smoking stopped me from eating. I was anorexic throughout my late teens and early 20s. What I saved on the calories I spent on tobacco. Cigarettes filled me up: they were my cheese and cake substitute, my sausages and bread.

Mine is the last generation of smokers who remember lighting up on public transport and in the cinema. The idea of having to go outside for a fag was extraordinary. Pubs were thick with smoke: it billowed out of teacher’s staff rooms, we all reeked of the stuff, our teeth were tortoiseshell.

Of course there was evidence that smoking killed. My grandfather withered away in his silk smoking jacket with a cigarette holder containing an untipped Players clenched between his khaki teeth. But still I persisted…until I got pregnant in my late 20s. Stopping was easy, fags made me puke. But a year, and a healthy baby, later I was onstage in Edinburgh doing a play. My character smoked and I was back on the cigs.

I smoked constantly through my 30s; I genuinely couldn’t take myself seriously as a writer unless I was wreathed in smoke.

My modus operandi was fags, lighter, ashtray, computer, diet coke. Gradually the ashtray brimmed; the ceiling of my study turned a Farrow and Ball phlegm yellow. Sometimes I got a bit wheezy walking down the stairs but I still didn’t think about quitting. National No Smoking days disappeared in a ‘baccy’ haze, my asthmatic partner choked beside me as I smoked in bed and my daughter got used to the fact that her mum stank.

But then, a decade ago, my surprise anti-smoking voice spoke. From the moment I first stuck a nicotine patch above my heart, I haven’t touched a cigarette. It was like suddenly noticing that the bloke you loved wore grey slip-on shoes: the relationship was over.

Ten years on I am still fag free. OK, so my teeth are still dreadful, I’ve got the ‘fine lines and wrinkles’ of an elephant with emphysema and, oh yes, I’m the size of a house! But I can still gig and write, it’s just these days instead of fag ash there are crumbs all over my keyboard. But what’s a mouse mat for if not to keep cheese on?

Listen, if I can do it, anyone can. Good luck wannabe quitters.

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Written by Jenny Eclair

Veteran comic, writer, diver, knitter (amateur) and South Londoner, v short sighted ( -5 left eye), HRT fan.