East Londoner John Driscoll was 13 when he first smoked a cigarette, starting a 21-year-old habit that cost him his health, his relationships and even his teeth.
Three years ago, he gave up the habit for good, switching to nicotine vape pens before completely phasing out nicotine, after two difficult decades marked by family breakdowns, homelessness and costly tobacco addiction.
Today, the 37-year-old father of two is an inspiration to people trying to quit smoking and to those he mentors with Groundswell, a charity for the homeless in southern London, having regained control of her life – saving thousands of pounds in the process.
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Start bad habits
“At about 13, I wasn’t really in school because I had a learning disability – but I had a college ID, which meant I looked older John explained.
“I was able to go into the stores and buy cigarettes quite easily, buy everybody’s cigarettes, and then I moved on to [smoking] a little grass too.
“I smoked from the age of 13 until about 34 years old.”
John quit smoking for about six months at one point, but relapsed when his ex-partner was pregnant and the stress of her pregnancy and work caused him to resume smoking.
He smoked around 30-40 cigarettes a day and said the sheer cost of smoking was one of the main things that encouraged him to quit.
“When I first started smoking it was about £ 1.80 for ten queers, £ 3 for 20, so I would just go into the store and buy 20 queers all day, not even thinking about the bill. “, did he declare.
“But when it was £ 14, £ 15 for a box, it was like, ‘Hell.’ That’s a lot of difference.”
In the three years since quitting smoking John has saved around £ 17,000 on the cost of cigarettes alone – Stop Smoking London estimates that a heavy smoker will spend £ 5,000 a year on tobacco.
“It’s one of those addictions that you don’t think affect you”
However, smoking also comes at a much higher cost: the cost to health and wellness. John is no stranger to this impact, having lost his teeth (smoking is a key factor in tooth staining, gum disease and even oral cancer) and having already struggled to climb even a half – escalator in the London Underground without his lungs stopping him.
“On the metro escalators, I was going halfway up and I would be dead,” he said.
“Now I can get to the top, then feel dead – but that’s a challenge. Every day you run an escalator faster, and eventually I’ll get to the top and I won’t feel like I’m will die. “
His tobacco addiction and cannabis habit also played a key role in his first experience of homelessness, as his behavior and associations with “the wrong crowd” caused a breakdown in his relationship with his parents, which caused them led to drive him out of their house.
John said that while he was homeless he was “still trying” to find cigarettes, “trying to find a way to get money to buy cigarettes”.
“It’s one of those addictions that you don’t think it really affects yourself, but you start to feel like it,” he said.
“When you feel like it, you say to yourself, ‘Do I really need this? Yes I need it “. So you’re over there begging. You earn all the money you can to have your cigarettes, or to collect cigarette butts. “
After escaping homelessness and starting working with Groundswell, a charity that helps tackle homelessness by working with people who have experienced it, he decided to try quitting for some. Well.
He said: “My job is to support street sleepers, especially in Lambeth, to cope with the challenges and barriers they face. This includes support to access services to improve their health and well- be, including accommodation, drugs, alcohol and smoking cessation services.
“It was wrong to help people with their addictions when I was there with two packs of queers in my pocket every day.”
He added that the financial cost was a huge factor in his decision to quit.
‘Alright, fuck that – I’m quitting’
“There were a few of us at Groundswell who just said, ‘Okay fuck that,’” John said.
“We were pissed off by the prices of queers, tobacco, so I thought okay, I’m going to go out and buy a £ 50 vape and test it out.
“It actually stopped me [smoking]. I got knocked down from the nicotine, and although I still have it with me, there is no nicotine in it. [my vape] now. All I got in there are flavor shots, no nicotine at all.
“It’s just there like a boredom thing, it’s something in your hand – you can be outside the pub ‘smoking’ with people, but with a vape, with no nicotine in it.”
John said it took him about a year to switch from 30 to 40 cigarettes a day to a fully nicotine-free vape, gradually reducing his nicotine levels. Now he can happily leave the house without his vape, but enjoys having the social element of smoking without so many harmful side effects.
Vaping is not completely risk-free, but the NHS website says it is less harmful than smoking tobacco: “Electronic cigarettes do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements of tobacco smoke.
“The liquid and vapor contain potentially harmful chemicals also found in cigarette smoke, but at much lower levels.”
One of the surprising benefits of quitting smoking that John discovered is that it no longer smells bad.
“I don’t stink, I notice it now,” he said. “When I see somebody get on a train, and they just had a cigarette, it’s like an ashtray. A human ashtray. They smell, it’s like, ‘Damn, get away from it. me “.
“And I had to be like that. But you don’t feel it, you don’t notice it. It’s only after you realize, damn it, that I was a human ashtray.”
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‘You have to beat the habit, don’t let it get you down’
To all smokers, John has a relevant piece of advice: “Don’t let him beat you, beat him. You have to beat the habit, don’t let him beat you.”
He recommends seeking help, talking to people you trust about addiction, and finding ways to cut down that are right for you, from nicotine patches to vape pens. or create a support network for you to cook cold turkey.
John is now enjoying a new life after smoking, helping others who have been through the same thing in Groundswell, and hopes his new healthier habits will help his relationship with his sons.
“With the money I saved I was able to go on vacation and save money for my boys when they are older,” he said.
“They are 12 and 9 now, but when my boys are 18 there will be money in the bank for them.
“They will be able to see what I have done for them.”
For help quitting smoking, visit stop smokinglondon.com.
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