I still feel short of breath after climbing a long flight of stairs or if I walk up a long, steep hill, which means that the damage that I did to my lungs over decades of smoking has to a certain degree been permanent. But at least it's not going to get worse, and that's a good thing, not least because there have been more and more restrictions put on smoking by governments at all levels even in the short time that has passed since I quit.
How long did I smoke for? I don't remember. I remember getting the belt when I was aged about 12 years from dad after he found out that I had been smoking. It was the only time he ever used physical punishment on me. Dad was not prone to that kind of behaviour, thank goodness. I remember smoking later, when I was at university, because he would drop me off at the campus and I would go to the canteen under Fisher Library to buy a pack of Kent and have one in the Stack - you could still smoke inside buildings in those days - before going to my first class for the day. I remember giving up when I started karate around 1988 but resuming when I met my future wife - a Japanese woman who smoked - and we got married in 1991. Then it was smoking all the way. In Japan, where I arrived in 1992, I smoked Caster, a local brand, until a colleague gave me a pack of Marlboro Lights and I switched, changing again to Marlboro Reds in around 2001.
That's a lot of smoking done, right there. And I regret it. Not so much the money - it only became really expensive near the end - but the health impact. It's difficult to know what kind of effect it had on my health over the years but I can tell now that having given up, I feel much better generally.
The final straw that made me give up in the end was a simple event. One day I found a can of air freshener on the external module of my air conditioner, which sat in the open-to-the-air hallway in the block of units in Maroochydore I lived in. There were three units of each floor, and the unit to the left was hardly occupied because it had been bought by a family living in Brisbane who only used it occasionally for holidays. So if the can of air freshener had been put there deliberately by someone then I knew who had done it.
I never said anything to them, but the next time I saw my psychiatrist I spoke to him about my misgivings and he asked me why I didn't give up. I also told him that because of mum's dementia and my desire to move back to Sydney eventually I would probably one day down the track be living in a unit block in that city where pressure from neighbours upset by the smell of cigarette smoke would only be worse than it had been on the Coast. So he prescribed me Champix and it was then only a matter of following the instructions on the packet and cutting down.
When I see office workers stuck out at the backside of the building across the street from my apartment I feel sorry for them. There are always, every week now, more pressures on people to give up. I personally didn't go for the vaping option because I knew that the authorities and the health experts advising them would never allow that route to be easy. So I'm really grateful to my psychiatrist for helping me to drop the habit. It has been well worthwhile and I recommend it to anyone who has anxieties about their own smoking. It sounds hard but with help it doesn't need to be, and in the long run you'll be thankful you quit.