After 27 years of smoking up to 60 cigarettes a day and several attempts to give up that never lasted more than four hours, Els van Tonder, finally managed to break the habit last year.
“I am very proud to say that I used to be a smoker,” she said this week.
Van Tonder, 40, started smoking at 13 when she started high school.
“My parents were both smokers so they couldn’t really tell me to stop. Last year I caught my son smoking and I realised that I didn’t have a foot to stand on,” she said.
At the time she was smoking between 30 and 40 cigarettes a day.
“We are not allowed to smoke at work so I was smoking five cigarettes during my lunch break and the rest at night. I was a complete chain smoker, using one cigarette to light the other.
“Smoking was so addictive for me that I didn’t even notice the health warnings on the pack. I don’t think anybody really does. I know people with emphysema who still smoke.”
She said in September last year she contacted her doctor and he prescribed tablets which would help her quit.
“By the fifth day I could see that I was smoking less.”
After two weeks I came home from work and said I would wait an hour before smoking. After a hour I said another hour and then another one.
“I went to bed at 8pm that night, not having had a smoke. The next week I went off the pills. I have now managed not to smoke for four months.
“The pills really worked for me. I would get a craving but when I took a pill the craving went away,” she said.
“The only downside for me was that I got a bit fat when I stopped smoking so now I will have to lose weight too.
“For one thing, the minute I stopped smoking, food started tasting completely different. I had a waffle the other day and it was completely disgusting.
“You could taste it had been cooked in old oil. I would never before have been able to taste that. “Now I hardly use salt anymore. “My sense of smell came back. I realised that my house stank.”
“I can tell you it is not easy and the cravings do not go away. They get less but they do not go away.
“I am proud of myself and now my new goal is to lose weight. I want to lose at least 20kg by the end of the year,” she said.
“I think the thing that helped me most was that I didn’t throw away my last packet of cigarettes. I kept it in a drawer like a security blanket. I always knew that if I really couldn’t take it any more I could have one.
“But the thing is, to stop smoking you must want to do it. You will need a lot of willpower. Before I decided to stop it didn’t matter that the doctor said I should stop. If you don’t want to do it for yourself you won’t succeed. I tried before but every time nicotine was stronger than my willpower.”
Something else that worked for van Tonder was changing her daily habits. “The first two months I went to bed at 8pm. I didn’t take lunch.
“I just worked all the time. I managed to change my former smoking routines one by one.
“Having said that, my best advice to teenagers would be to never ever start smoking,” Van Tonder said.
– Estelle Ellis