Tweeting: the new way to give up smoking?

4 October 2011

Written by: MICHAEL NOLAN

Michael NolanI’ve been a smoker on and off for 19 years.

I had my first cigarette at the ripe-old age of seven, hiding in the shed on my friend’s farm after nicking a couple of smokes from his mum’s handbag.  I don’t remember whether I inhaled or not, but I do remember wanting another one.

Fast forward two decades through high school, university, a solid number of years in the hospitality industry, and I’d developed a pack-a-day habit.

I loved to smoke and I’ve tried them all – smoking became a hobby than a habit; more a passion than an addiction.  Unfortunately (and expectedly), it was slowly killing me.

For the past few months, I had started feeling a sharp pain in my lungs whenever I took a deep breath, which became more pronounced after every cigarette.  This pain, combined with a new generation of guilt-laden anti-smoking propaganda, pushed me over the edge.

And so, on September 16, I quit.

It wasn’t the first time – I’ve tried to quit almost everyday for the past two years.  I’ve tried patches and gum, hypnotherapy, herbal replacements and going the infamous cold turkey.

I had failed with each method and I needed something new this time.  I needed something fresh, something modern, something more in tune with life in the 21st century.

I needed something that was nicotine-free, which kept my hands and mind occupied for short bursts of time and would allow me to rage against it in times of desperation.

And so, I went for cold turkey with a social media twist.  Whenever I felt like smoking, I would tweet about it.

If I was angry, I could hurl my rage into the vacuum of the Twittersphere.  If I was in an awkward social situation, I would excuse myself, walk away and start tweeting until I had the courage to return.

I also started an online diary to record the changes to my body and lifestyle, such as regaining my sense of smell and my metabolism going into overdrive.

Publicising the blog though Facebook brought my efforts to the attention of fellow quitters who responded with advice and sympathy.

Ordinarily, quitting cold turkey is hell.  Within a few days, nothing feels good anymore.

Twitter was my saviour in these darkest of moments. It became a dependable companion that I could swear at and abuse.  It was somewhere I could hide while in public; a quiet place I could retreat to.

Meanwhile, to my surprise, the blog became hugely popular averaging 100 views a day.   With this attention has come a stream of advice, empathy, congratulations and comment from Facebook ‘friends’ I rarely talk to.

The smokers and ex-smokers alike have come out in force and it’s their identification with the problems I’m having that has given me the strength to continue.

In the half-a-decade that social media has been an all-intrusive part of modern life, this is the first time I’ve experienced honest ‘social’ interaction.

It has been two weeks since my last cigarette and I have effectively replaced the habit with blogging and tweeting.

Neither bring me the same level of joy, but they are a start.

Michael Nolan is studying a Graduate Diploma in Journalism and is part of upstart’s editorial team.  You can read more on his blog and follow him on Twitter: @MichaelNolan8