For decades I had an on again off again romance with cigarettes. Every night I lay my head down on my pillow and in between coughing fits, I made myself a solemn promise that I was giving up the cigs. The next morning I automatically reached for my pre-breakfast cigarette and pushed all gloomy thoughts of quitting back into my subconscious. People kept telling me that I was stronger than the cigs but they weren’t smokers. I was as hooked as those addicts are who take illegal drugs.
I did flirt with the idea of nicotine patches until I witnessed a fellow sufferer take hers off her arm before lighting up. I tried cutting back, but never got even close to reaching the aimed target. I stayed in bed till late, trying to put off that first smoke. I sucked on boiled sweets, but they somehow didn’t pack the same punch as the 4000 chemicals I was used to inhaling. Like any other addict I had to reach rock bottom first then muster up a heap of determination, knowing all the while that there was no guarantee of success.
Non smokers talk about weakness, but Nicotine is a highly psychoactive ingredient. (that’s a chemical substance that changes brain function and results in alterations in perception, mood, or consciousness. Wikipedia). This is what keeps smokers hooked.
Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Massachusetts, Boston investigated patients who gave up smoking between 2001 and 2006. The main finding was that ‘persons who quit, relapsed at equivalent rates, whether or not they used nicotine replacement therapy to help them in their quit attempts.’
It took me three decades to be an overnight success. I finally realised that the only way for me was cold turkey. It was hell. Two things kept me going – the chemicals doing a constant Cha Cha up and down my chest made me angry and determined. Second – I knew in my very subconscious that I could relapse and start again another day. People who ar in prison don’t have that option.
If I was quitting today, I’d be checking in to my local jail for some drastic therapy. There were riots in our remand centres last week.The best that powers that be could offer hardened criminals on the day was a one off gourmet meal of sea food and steak and lollipops to suck on. Yes, I’m aware of the irony, but I’m reminded of prisoners on death row being offered a last meal. I find it patronising and it’s obvious that so did the prisoners.
Corrections Victoria ran Quit programs for 18 months, distributing nicotine replacement patches. By the end of May, about 20 per cent of Victorian inmates had participated in one of the programs. But the stats aren’t out on how many of those twenty percent managed not to relapse. Nor do I know whether there is a plan to keep up the Quit scheme for those desperate to give it a try now that their options have shrunk.
Jails aren’t static. Populations swell and shrink. It’s surely going to be an ongoing problem. One has to wonder if anyone has planned for it.
‘Smoking is also a significant part of prison life for prisoners who smoke. It is a social practice, a means of relaxation and stress relief, a rare exercise of choice, a form of currency, and “a symbol of freedom in a group with few rights and privileges”. ‘ (Smoking in prisons:Whose rights? Monash.edu)
Last but not least, a final irony (as I see it). There’s a constant push to make illegal drugs legal because it’s all too hard to keep trafficking under control. How funny if one day it’s Maryjane making the above-board visits to our remand centres.