It is estimated that Nigerians smoke 40 billion cigarettes every year, with 11 million people lighting up 110 million sticks of cigarettes every day. These numbers are rightly alarming as approximately one out of every ten Nigerians smoke cigarettes.

Nicotine is a stimulant present in cigarettes. It’s also responsible for addiction to cigarettes. This chemical compound makes quitting very difficult, often presenting withdrawal symptoms in smokers trying to stop. Quitting any substance is a very real and constant battle for people who decide to. I spoke with five people who have made the brave decision to conquer this very deadly habit.

Jennifer, 36

I’m desperately trying to stop smoking. I started smoking in 1998 since an ex introduced it to me. I’ve been trying to quit for more than 20 years and I’m very worried about my health. 

I had a health scare a year ago when I had to have major brain surgery to remove a tumour. I was convinced I was going to die. Luckily, it was benign. The tumour was quite large and I discovered I had had it for over ten years. Funny enough, my doctor never linked smoking to my cancer. He didn’t even ask until I told him. He also says I’ll probably have another surgery sometime in the future.

I’m currently on yet another effort to quit. While I’ve cut down the number of sticks I smoke, I’ve not been able to stop completely. I went from smoking about ten cigarettes a day to between three to five cigarettes. Progress.

Mark, 33

I quit smoking on the 1st of January this year. I started smoking socially, like any curious young man, in 2013. It snowballed over the years until I started buying packs of cigarettes. I didn’t have health side effects but one thing that was constant was me always needing a fix. After every meeting, I’d be aching to go out for a smoke. I’d always come back smelling of cigarettes (perfumes can only do so much). I decided to quit because I didn’t like the control it had over me. Plus it’s not healthy, to begin with.

I decided to quit because of my partner. She knew I smoked socially but I don’t think she realised how bad it was. She works in healthcare so she’s always putting extra pressure on me to stop. I didn’t want to have to lie to her about the whole thing so that made me quit cold turkey.

I’m not going to lie, quitting is difficult. The first few days were hellish. I’m quite social so I was constantly exposed to the triggers: drinks, outdoors, other people smoking, etc. I thought the worst part was over then the rains began. God, it’s been a constant struggle. It doesn’t exactly get easier. The urges come and go, but knowing that I’m on a streak keeps me going. If I pick up a cigarette today, I might never quit again.

Dare, 29

I started smoking in secondary when I was 14. My dad was a smoker, so naturally, I became curious. It wasn’t a habit but I was smoking occasionally because I thought it was cool. I started smoking regularly in the university when I started to learn about my panic attacks, anxiety and depressive episodes. They were really stressful to deal with so I started to smoke to take the edge off.

From there, it became a full-blown habit. Anytime I felt my obsessive-compulsive disorder kicking in or I started to feel anxious, I’d start craving cigarettes. When I graduated from the university, I decided to cut down my smoking. I went from smoking a pack and half in uni to smoking seven sticks a day in 2017.

I’ve always been aware of the dangers of cigarettes but I never gave it much thought until a personal event occurred and I became pre-hypertensive. My heartbeat rose drastically during my panic attacks. This meant I had to make lifestyle changes so I decided to cut down so more.

I’ve also been trying to eat better, exercise and cut down even further. I’ve had several cold quits but I think the reason I haven’t quit is that I haven’t tried hard enough. I’ve gone several weeks without smoking a stick, so without doubt, I have the capacity to stop. I just need to be decisive about quitting because if I can cut down to 3-4 sticks a day, I can quit completely. I just need to put in the work.

Temi, 30

My first interaction with cigarettes started when I was about 9. My dad was a smoker and I was a very curious kid so one day I smoked a cigarette when he wasn’t around. It was not until secondary school when I started rolling with male friends that I started smoking habitually. I also smoked weed but it wasn’t until the university that I started smoking weed regularly.

I’ve always struggled with cigarettes. First of all, I’m asthmatic and know that I shouldn’t be smoking but something must kill a man. The first time I realised I had to stop smoking was when I discovered I was smoking one pack of cigarettes in two days, while I was serving in 2013. That day, I looked into my trash can full of cigarette butts and realised I needed help. Since then, I make a resolution every year to quit but I always fall by the wayside. Earlier this year, I took to the gym to help me quit but corona and other bad stuff started happening and I said “fuck this shit!” and started smoking again. I’ve tried to limit my smoking to one stick a day but that never works because I’d always say: “Okay, one more stick won’t hurt” and before I know it, I’m right back where I started. 

Sometime last year, I tried limiting myself to smoking a maximum of 4 sticks per week, and only on the weekends. That worked for two months but I started smoking “just one more” till I fell off again. I’ve heard of nicotine patches but I haven’t made any efforts to get on it. I’ve also tried e-cigarettes but that was just a waste of money because I still ended up craving normal cigarettes. 

Tayo, 27

If you’re a young legal practitioner working in Lagos, you might understand my plight. I’m a lawyer who works in entertainment and other businesses. I get very busy and that means perpetual stress. It started smoking in law school as a coping mechanism against anxiety and depression. Now, I buy only about two sticks a day, except I’m out with the boys and there’s plenty of people to smoke with.

I know the health hazards that come with this bad habit. I’m constantly wondering why cigarettes can be so good yet so harmful. I am constantly weighing the pros and cons, trying to find a balance. I am literally panicking right now, knowing that this thing is probably going to kill me. I need to light one now to calm my nerves.

Read: 5 Nigerians Talk About Their Battles With Drug Addiction

One year ago, we left Nigeria for an 80-day adventure across West Africa. Something is coming. Unshared stories. New perspectives. Limited series. 10 episodes.


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