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Up in smoke: An employee’s attempt to quit the cigarettes

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Cigarette smokeAs part of our health and wellbeing theme in April, Becky Midgley will be keeping us up-to-date with her efforts to stop smoking through an eight-week programme set up by her employer. This week, she attends her first session and isn’t too impressed.


Several weeks ago our HR manager sent a group email to everyone in the office to say they had arranged for the NHS to come in once a week for eight weeks to support any of us who would like to consider quitting smoking. I duly put my name forward; I want to quit, and the opportunity to do so with support was appealing.

As the start date approached, our HR manager came round the office with a proverbial hot poker and started goading smokers into joining. It worked – she went from four or five recruits to about 13. Although I’m not convinced that forcing people to take on such a challenge is the kind of supportive and encouraging approach this kind of task needs, it doesn’t bother me – I want to quit and appreciate the initiative.

“As I look around the room, I’m surrounded by people tapping toes, bouncing knees, chewing fingernails, and playing with hair.”

So the day comes and I’m in the lift with a colleague who, like me, has just rushed out for an early lunch as we are both about to go to what is our inaugural stop smoking session. She asks if I am going and whether I want to quit, and then proceeds to tell me that she is only going because she was told that another staff benefit that she makes use of – discounted gym membership – will soon be unavailable for smokers.

I immediately feel sorry for her on two levels: one, that she has basically been blackmailed into joining the group and two, that she isn’t ready in herself to commit to stop smoking.

Thirteen nervous faces gather around a large boardroom table. There are blank sheets of A4 paper in the middle of the table and one large marker pen, the nerves increase. Our two ‘advisors’ (I shall refer to them as advisors as I’m not technically sure what else to call them) introduce themselves and we begin by being asked for a show of hands of those who want to quit. I’m the only person to throw my hand up, and at first I am proud of that. The others’ hands slowly creep toward the ceiling before we’ve taken far too long to get all hands up. Advisor number one is nervous now too, and continues by saying this isn’t going to work if we don’t want to quit, as no matter how much nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) they prescribe, it will be worth sweet FA if it isn’t backed up by willpower.

It’s an airy fairy and unconvincing start to the programme. We’re then asked to discuss our habits and, as usual, some people talk, some stay quiet and very little is accomplished. I sit there feeling more disappointed that the blank sheets of A4 were to write our names on and not list our habits, reasons for quitting, fears and the like. I would have thought documenting our journey would have been very productive.

Advisor number two then talks us through all the NRT and other prescription options, and you can almost hear people murmuring familiar phrases such as, “never worked for me before”, “I’m not that much of a heavy smoker anyway”, “won’t work for me”, pouring from everyone’s minds.

As I look around the room, I’m surrounded by people tapping toes, bouncing knees, chewing fingernails, and playing with hair, and I wonder if it’s because they really need a fag, or because we’re all worried we don’t have the strength to do this. I’m hoping that the advisors pick up on it and reassure us; they don’t.

“Another show of hands to the question of who will be coming next week, and then a mass exodus outside for a fag.”

Next they ask who wants to have their CO2 reading taken. Again, I throw myself at it knowing it will be motivational and great to watch it improve as I move through the programme and reluctantly everyone else gets on board. I keep waiting for them to explain about CO2 and its effects on the body, and OK, maybe I should know, but I don’t, and therefore it is meaningless in relation to motivation.

My reading was 12, the lowest in the group was 1, and the highest was 27. It means nothing to us, except maybe some people’s are bad and others are good, so why bother quitting anyway? One recruit got a reading of 24, and she nearly cried; I still don’t know why, unless she knows about CO2. Maybe I should ask her.

We gradually get around to setting a date to actually quit, and they suggest Monday 13 April, which, incidentally, is a day when they don’t come in since it is Easter Monday and none of us will be here. Bad preparation on their part I think. So they faff around and try and work out what to do about that, with an inconclusive, “well, we’ll try and arrange to come on Tuesday”.

Another show of hands to the question of who will be coming next week, and then a mass exodus outside for a fag.

Maybe the negativity I feel about this session is simply because it is the first session, and none of us really knew what to expect. It is always difficult to deal with individual problems in a group, so maybe I will begin to get more out of the sessions as each week passes. Here’s hoping anyway!

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