"No Pain No Gain" in quitting smoking

It is most regrettable that the Government's "TAK NAK" anti-smoking campaign has come to naught. With or without any anti-smoking campaign, many smokers have found it difficult to kick the habit. More often than not, they blame their failures on the lack of will power.

There is no doubt that will power is needed to give up smoking. But most smokers do not have strong will power as otherwise they would not have acquired the habit in the first place. However, many have succeeded in kicking the habit and it is not always will power that is behind their success.

To me, there was something besides will power that was needed to give up smoking. I had to endure a lot of pain in my attempt to quit smoking.

I was tempted, like many others, to pick it up in my late teens when I first came to Kuala Lumpur to pursue my upper secondary education in the late 50s. However, it was the lack of pocket money that prevented me from acquiring the habit. The suppression of my craving to smoke lasted a number of years until I finally graduated from Universiti Malaya.

Now, as an independent young man, I did not want to miss out the small pleasures of life and as such I started to acquire a taste for alcohol and tobacco. Alcoholism could be in my genes as my father drank before he passed away, but not tobacco.

When I was a freshman in university, our lecturer on Mechanical Engineering used to expound his version of the "facts of life" to the class. And one of the subjects was about lung cancer due to smoking. He said that according to statistics, the majority of smokers who died of lung cancer were over 40 and had a smoking history for over 20 years. Therefore, he said if one wanted to smoke, it would be better to do it well within the threshold of this "safe" age band.

This was really the key to my indulgence in another small pleasure of life - smoking, but with a promise that I would give it up before I reached 40. So, for the next 15 years or so, the cigarette was my inseparable companion. When approaching 40, I constantly reminded myself of the promise I had made to myself, but I needed an opportunity to kick the habit.

The opportunity came when I took my whole family to a vacation in California just before I turned 40. I thought it would be easier for me to give up smoking when I was in a more relaxed environment and with no work pressure. Nevertheless, I bought a carton of my favourite brand of cigarettes from the duty-free shop at the airport on our departure to the United States.No pain no gain

More than half way through our vacation, I finished my duty-free cigarettes and thought it was now an opportune time to kick the habit. After I lighted my last cigarette, I threw my expensive lighter into a drain and hoped that it would not fall into another hand.

However that was not the end of the story. If it were that easy to give up smoking, then there would not be so many hardcore smokers still around.

I went through that day without any problem though there was a strong craving for cigarettes. After dinner, I had a minor toothache and so I took a couple of Panadols before retiring. But the ache persisted and it grew steadily worse as the night wore on until it became so excruciating that I thought my whole head was going to explode if the pain could not be contained soon. I was thirsty too and so I drank some cold water. Suddenly the toothache subsided somewhat. I drank more water and the ache miraculously subsided. It was a great relief. But the relief was short-lived as about half an hour later the ache came back.

So I had to continue this cold-water treatment through the night and so did not have a wink of sleep. In the morning and while waiting to go to see a dentist, my wife suggested that I apply some traditional Chinese ointment to my teeth. I did and the result was beyond expectations. The ache vanished and though it returned after about two hours, I was relieved.

With the new discovery, I decided to go to Chinatown in San Francisco to purchase more medication and at the same time to consult a dentist. At the dental clinic, I told the dentist of the problems and my attempts to contain the pain. As I could not identify the problematic teeth, the dentist decided to x-ray both my jaws.

From the results of the x-ray, the dentist could not detect any defects in any tooth or any gum infection. His advice to me was to carry on the treatment using the medication I had used earlier. Continuing with this treatment, the intensity of pain became less severe and its frequencies at progressively longer intervals.

By the time we returned home, the ache had completely vanished. During these few days of suffering, I had no craving for a cigarette as my whole attention was diverted towards fighting the pain. I went to consult my dentist soon after I returned home and he too took an x-ray of my jaws and confirmed that my teeth were all right.

I told my experience to my family doctor one day and he narrated another story to me about a patient of his who tried to quit the habit of smoking.

According to him, his patient had initially succeeded in giving up smoking. But he discovered a couple of months later that his breasts began to grow like the women's.

I asked my doctor what sort of treatment he recommended to his patient. He told me that he advised his patient to resume smoking! He also cautioned me that I might develop some feminine traits.

Strangely, the toothache I suffered in California came back a year later. But this time it was bearable. And luckily, my breasts did not grow nor I became less manly!

I have definitely led a happier and healthier life without smoking. I was able to take up strenuous sports like squash and marathon running.

Though I have also given these up, I am now actively enjoying golf, scuba diving, travelling and mountain trekking. With the latter pursuit, I had managed to gain two entries in The Malaysia Book Of Records; one for Highest Altitude Trekking and the other for Oldest to trek Mt. Everest's North Face.

I doubt I would do what I am doing now and enjoy my golden years if I had not stopped smoking.

In the final analysis, it is a classic case of "no pain no gain" as far as giving up smoking is concerned.


A version of the above was published in Star Two on 13/09/05

nakedeyeview.com.my 2008

nakedeyeview.com.my 2008