The disturbing news recently that provincial tobacco sales have increased over the past five years, despite the war on smoking and, most recently, the debate over e-cigarettes, is an ugly smear for Vancouver’s untarnished reputation as a health- and environmentally-conscious city, vying for the world’s greenest title by 2020.
According to Statistics Canada, so far this year smokers have spent nearly $300 million on cigarettes and tobacco products, which is a number that has been steadily on the rise since 2009. One has to question what’s going to happen in the next six years to dramatically discourage people from lighting up and polluting themselves, and our city, with their second-hand smoke and nuisance cigarette butts?
Local health authorities – already under strain given our aging population and the known health risks with smoking – agree that more needs to be done to “denormalize” it, such as enforcing the smoking bans in public places, while the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes is being blamed for encouraging our youth to take up the habit. So, is this a case of young people trying to be cool while puffing on their e-cigs – a potential “gateway” to the real thing – or is Vancouver’s diverse baby boomer generation refusing to give up?
For former smokers like myself, it’s easy to empathise with, but hard to reconcile, the decades-
long battle in this day and age, and especially in this city. On one hand, smoking is an addiction, which can feel next-to-impossible to quit if you don’t have the right support. Some people don’t want to quit. They like everything about it and the hand-to-mouth ritual has become their crutch, like drinks, drugs, sex or even food for those emotional eaters among us.
For others, it’s a filthy habit they want to give up but can’t, enduring a seemingly endless cycle of stubbing out and then falling off the wagon and lighting up, ending up right back at square one disillusioned and resigned to the fact that smoking will always have a hold over them.
On the other side, this is Vancouver. The city of greenest dreams, jam-packed with health nuts and fitness freaks who wouldn’t dare pollute their bodies with such poison as unfiltered water, let alone nicotine.
What’s worse is that I’ve been guilty of both. As an avid smoker, I could easily get through a pack of 20 on a night out. Smoking became part of my persona as a teen. It was my ‘thing’, stupid as that sounds. I loved everything about it – the way it made me feel, the sense of naive rebelliousness about it all, the social aspect, the ‘having something to go with a cup of coffee, a drink, before a meal, after a meal, before bed, first thing in the morning, on the phone, waiting for a bus, standing in a line-up, lounging in the park’ (before it became illegal – smoking that is, not lounging) – the list goes on and on.
Then, as happens with most addictions, you get sick of it. You’re tired of feeling tired all the time because you can’t move without wheezing or coughing up ‘lung butter’ as my non-smoker partner so (un)affectionately coined it.
But how do you get help? According to a Vancouver Hypnotherapy study, only 28 per cent succeed going cold turkey, six per cent using nicotine patches or gum and even less using prescribed medication, with the greatest success in alternative therapies, such as acupuncture (49 per cent), laser therapy (47 per cent) and hypnotherapy at an impressive 67 to 89 per cent success rate.
I can attest to this having never smoked again after a single hypnotherapy session some seven years ago. While expensive at the equivalent cost of approximately one month’s smoking on a pack a day, it was the best decision I ever made. Ironically, it was to get fit and healthy before moving to Vancouver to avoid being an outcast among the hikers and cycle lane bikers here, which is a lifestyle so engrained in our tourism lure that smoking and congestion do nothing but sully our ‘boy/girl next door’ image.
Among all the mumbo-jumbo of the meditative state, the greatest takeaway was a mantra that was drilled into my subconscious, much against my will as I was very skeptical about the whole thing but was willing to try anything after 10 years of a progressively worsening habit – five of which were “fun” to my not yet fully developed brain; the other five I felt like a prisoner in my own body.
Tony Sadar, a renowned hypnotist in my native Ireland, said that every time I would see the colour red, I would repeat; “I am a permanent non-smoker and this time I will make it stick.” I thought; “Yeah right, what a load of boloney” – until I was waiting for the bus home, thinking that this would normally be the time I’d have a cigarette, when the brake light of a passing car flashed by and the mantra popped into my head without my thinking.
For months afterwards, any time I saw red my mind automatically repeated the phrase. And I never smoked again. Even now, all those years later, when I see someone enjoying a cigarette with a beer on a sunny patio and that familiar craving creeps back into my psyche, I hear the mantra deep in my subconscious.
Now, I’m one of those annoying former smokers who hates being around it and hates everything about it. I hate seeing cigarette butts littering our streets or walking into a cloud of smoke from a passerby. I refrain from reprimanding smokers when they toss their butts on the ground and walk away, but I want to. I imagine when I’m a bit older and don’t care as much, I’ll be that person.
Everyone knows that smoking kills and that it mainly starts in our youth. In fact, the UK is voting on banning the sale of cigarettes to anyone born after the year 2000 to create a new generation of non-smokers.
The trouble here is that, as cliché as it sounds, the fact that people still don’t seem to get the message, or they get it but they don’t care, is what’s killing our city and our green reputation.
We all have a choice to make and the clock’s ticking, so what would you do?