After sharing his personal story at The Manchester Cancer Research Centre on Thursday 30 March, former smoker Chris Baxter writes about how he made the switch from lit cigarettes to vaping.
I started smoking at 16, and I started alone. I would finish my Saturday morning job, buy 10 cigarettes, find a back alley – and smoke. I loved it; it was like putting a key in a lock. I soon became a social smoker and then a heavy smoker. Everyone knew me as a smoker.
I made my first serious attempt to quit when I was 25. Only to find I was completely addicted. The withdrawal symptoms were agony. I failed. I tried again many times – with patches, gums, all that stuff. I always relapsed. Even if I managed a few months, something always came up (someone would die) and I’d be back on the fags.
By my 50s I had given up trying – I was a smoker and that was it. By my later 50s my health was suffering. I had an awful hacking, phlegm-ridden cough. I couldn’t do aerobic exercise. If I’d tried to chase a handbag-snatcher I would have been in trouble. If I had needed a general anaesthetic – it would have been refused. I was a 58 year old heavy smoker and I knew it.
My wife, Carol, also smoked. We saw an electronic cigarette being used in a bar. A few days later Carol came home with a ‘cigalike’ from the corner shop. We tried it, it was rubbish, we put it in the kitchen drawer. But it was proof of concept.
Six days later we drove 30 miles to the first vape shop in the north. We each bought a ‘refillable tank system’. Back in the car I filled it and gave it a go. I knew immediately that I would never smoke again – and I never have, not a single drag. I’d been looking for something like this for 33 years. 33 years in which I had lost three of my dearest friends to smoking – vaping came too late for them.
It was a learning curve and there were difficult times, but it worked, and my health began to improve. After five months a friend challenged me and I signed up for the Swaledale Marathon – so I had to get fit. There’s a little mountain a few miles from Lancaster, part of the wild Bowland Fells. It’s called Clougha Pike. I staggered to the summit as fast as I could. Again and again and again. And my times gradually improved.
11 months after switching I did the Swaledale Marathon – 24 miles of moorland tracks and bogs, with 4000 feet of ascent. At the start line I genuinely didn’t know if I could do it. (And I seemed to be the only entrant not wearing Lycra). But I did it – and I finished 350th out of 450. Yes, 350th! (I know it sounds daft but it still means everything to me).
Can you imagine? 11 months earlier I was choking on cigarette smoke. Some days I could hardly breathe. But I had completed a mountain marathon! (And did I mention that I finished 350th?) I’ve done the Swaledale twice since then and I’ll be doing it again on June 10 2017. I’ll be 63.
It feels like I’ve been given a second chance – and I owe it all to vaping. I truly believe vaping saved my life. And I truly believe vaping can save millions of lives – if it’s given the chance.
PS. Carol switched too. She has the good sense not to do marathons but we enjoy our gentle walks in the Scottish Highlands.