By Taseer Ali
I have been a cigarette smoker for over 10 years. When I picked up my first cigarette, I was surrounded by people who smoked – making it a cool thing to do that I could sustain even on a shoe-string budget. Flash forward, I inadvertently picked up a habit that I would, since, struggle to leave.
And clearly, I am not the only one, there are over 1 billion smokers in this world (ref: WHO Study – 2018). Being one, I can say with some certainty that most of us want to drop this habit from our lives. But this is easier said than done. While some rock stars manage to go cold-turkey and never touch a cigarette again in their lives, the majority like myself need a transition path out of it. A slow sustainable taper-off, rather than the much more difficult sudden up-and-leave approach. Or at the very least, switch to a less-harmful alternative.
In my quest to find my way out of the cigarette world, here are the alternatives I have tracked and tried, and my experience of them:
1- Nicotine gum/spray/inhaler/pouches: this is an option I use in tandem with regular smoking, particularly in places where I cannot light up a cigarette. Airlines, meetings, malls – these alternatives tide me over to the time when I can step outside, but only just. With the weird after-taste and headache to boot, I, personally, do not find this a sustainable alternative to full-time smoking, but rather a fallback option in dire circumstances.
2- Vape/E-Cigarettes: I am no expert of this option, as some other people around me are, but I have experimented with my fair share of this technology. This was an option that worked really well in short bursts for me, particularly when I was travelling or living abroad – as this was much cheaper than going out and buying a pack of cigarettes a day. On the flip side, I always find the variation of technology here too complicated for me to understand at times. There is a fair bit of learning and experimentation required and does not appear to be a plug and play situation. The ban on in-flight usage since 2016 has also taken away my motivation to invest more effort into this approach.
3- Heated tobacco products: this is a technology I am intrigued by and I am looking to make this the next stop in my quitting journey. The basics remain the same as a stick of tobacco which is heated, instead of burnt, to reduce the release of harmful chemicals from the equation. It appears to be the closest thing to regular smoking at the moment, while appearing to be significantly less-harmful than cigarettes. While this option is sparsely available in Pakistan already via grey channels, I do hope these become more readily available at more competitive rates for people like me to give it a shot and move onwards in their process.
That said, I do wish this journey was surrounded by more accessible conversations. It is easy to say smokers should quit smoking but step one is understanding that this is easier said than done. There is a need for new conversations – based on science and facts – about the alternatives, and exploring the paths that lie ahead for people to choose from, which I feel, would be a more sustainable way for smokers to be able to reduce this habit.