John McDonald

Blogging about politics, life, and the web

100 hours without a cigarette

April 1st, 2011

While I’m not ready to claim a victory over the greatest addiction in my life, I am sitting with a slightly cocky grin tonight as I’ve passed 100 hours without a proper cigarette. As its Friday night (err… Saturday morning?), that means I’ve even made it past a night of moderate drinking without falling to the temptations of tobacco.

A long history

And I’ve been smoking for a long time. Around 12 or 13, a friend’s sister offered me a dollar if I could snag a smoke from my mom and deliver it to her. Except, when I did provide the cigarette and collected my dollar, she didn’t actually want to smoke it so her brother and I split it.

It was pretty good.

I’ve always had a bit of anxiety lingering in my mind, and with Celiac Disease there was a constant unease in my stomach that tobacco seemed to calm better than anything else I’d tried.  So while we weren’t of the legal age to acquire more smokes, that didn’t stop us from slipping them in to pockets when no one was looking, or asking the homeless vets who hung out by the gas station to pop in and buy us a pack.

So school would let out, and we’d all congregate behind the convenient store and wait patiently for someone who was willing to indulge or nicotine fix.  The regular price for a pack of smokes included a quart for the buyer, so we got our cigs and they got some beer.

Everyone was happy.

Except that shit will kill you…

But that just isn’t something you worry about when you’re 13 years old and picking up a horrible addiction.  Youth makes us feel immortal, and it is only 10 or 15 years later that one really starts to feel the consequences of such a vice.  It wasn’t just the congestion, but a soreness and stiffness around the sinuses, throat, and mouth. It wasn’t just my own desire to be healthy, like the impulse that has led me to watch my diet and exercise regularly, but also the constant pressure from friends, family, and other loved ones who couldn’t stand to see me hurting myself for the sake of a quick and cheap buzz.

And the odds (for quitting) are stacked against

But even when I realized I wanted to quit, that wasn’t good enough.  I’ve tried several times before – both cold turkey and with nicotine patches.   A single day without cigarettes was pure torture, no matter how much exercise, food, or how many patches I tried to put in their place.  It seems like I wasn’t alone in that hopeless feeling, because the research suggests a slim 3% of people who attempt to go cold turkey manage to go an entire year without more cigarettes.  Even with nicotine replacement therapies, the success rate only tops out around 15%.

Enter the electronic cigarette

Sliding under the regulatory scene is the electronic cigarette.  These portable vaporizers atomize a nicotine solution in to a gaseous fog.  They’re shaped like cigarettes and activated by sucking on the end so everything about the process mimics smoking while strictly controlling what is actually inhaled – mostly pure nicotine minus most of the secondary compounds of burning plant matter.

Of course, the nicotine itself isn’t exactly good for you.  It can increase heart rate, and some nicotine derivatives of the chemical are found in the tumors of smokers who eventually succumb to cancer.

But not all of the health consequences of smoking are directly tied to the inhalation of nicotine itself.  There hasn’t been a whole lot of scientific research in to this particular phenomenon, but the little bit I could find was quite interesting:

The rats breathed in a chamber with nicotine at a concentration giving twice the plasma concentration found in heavy smokers. Nicotine was given for 20 h a day, five days a week during a two-year period. We could not find any increase in mortality, in atherosclerosis or frequency of tumors in these rats compared with controls. Particularly, there was no microscopic or macroscopic lung tumors nor any increase in pulmonary neuroendocrine cells. Throughout the study, however, the body weight of the nicotine exposed rats was reduced as compared with controls. In conclusion, our study does not indicate any harmful effect of nicotine when given in its pure form by inhalation.

Does that mean electronic cigarettes, or smokeless nicotine devices are harmless? Well, probably not, unless you’re directly comparing them to cigarettes which are known to be horrible for your health without any room left for debate. They’re just bad for ya, even if they make ya feel good!

So, for the last four days and some change, I’ve been puffing on a cheap disposable electronic cigarette. It definitely isn’t the same, and even though I’ve kept nicotine running through the blood there has been some brutal feelings of withdrawal. For the first day or two, every action and thought I had was followed up by the idea that “Oh, I should have a cigarette!”

Even right now, I keep thinking about how nice and warm it would feel in the lungs to light up a fresh smoke. Every time the e-cig needs to go down for charging, or after finishing a meal or a glass of rum, I have a hard time getting past that craving.

I’ve acted like a jerk, and thrown little tantrums at my girlfriend like I was some kind of child. She’s had a tough week of her own, and instead of being there to support her I’ve been like this needy & clingy bundle of shaking nerves.

But it is so worth it…

The first benefit of not smoking was the clearing up of sinus pressure. I’ve always had stuffy sinuses, but after just a day of not smoking I started to feel them clear up for the first time in a long time. At two days, I took a walk after it rained and was amazed at how fresh and vital the world smelled. From the wet dirt to the blooming spring flowers, I was amazed at the distinction and potency of these fragrances. Of course, the best smell of all is walking in to my own house without the stale smoke stench, or not tasting the alkaline film in my mouth all day.

Excited and looking forward

Primarily, the electronic cigarette has helped me break the quitting process down in to more manageable parts.  On the first few days, I broke from the secondary chemicals in the smoke, and the feeling of deeply inhaling a burning substance.  Even with the nicotine flowing, things weren’t the same.

After two or three days, that particular feeling started to pass.  It so happens that the cheap e-cig I bought also started to lose its ability to keep a charge, and it doesn’t refill very well.  So the third and fourth day have involved a gradual stepping down in that availability of nicotine, but I think I’m largely past the intense desires I first felt.

All in all, this is by far the longest I’ve gone without a smoke, and I think it is starting to get just a little easier with every additional hour that ticks by.  The withdrawal is bad, and I haven’t even faced the worst part yet, but the benefits of not inhaling a burnt plant are starting to become apparent and my desire to go back to the hacking and coughing have faded pretty fast.

I hope I won’t spend the next fifteen years puffing on an electronic cigarette, but for now, I feel like I’ve accomplished one of those goals that seemed so extreme as to be out of reach.  

Good luck to everyone else out there who is trying to quit – it might take a few tries and a lot of different methods to accomplish it, but it is really worth it when you can finally pull it off!




Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *