Andy Staples stares temptation in the face. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Twenty a day for 23 years. That's 168,000 cigarettes I've smoked, counting leap years.

Actually, it's probably more — like most smokers, I get through more with a, ahem, beverage in my hand.

I smoked my last four weeks ago — at least, I fully intend it to be my last. I'm not yet out of the "relapse zone", the period in which many fall off the wagon.

Interactive: How smoking damages your body

Friends, family and doctors have been asking me to quit for years. I always told them I wouldn't — not until I really wanted to.

The last thing I wanted was to be one of those whingers who are always trying to quit and never succeeding.

No crutches

And when I did decide to quit, I went cold turkey. No gum or patches, no fake fag, nothing to prolong my addiction or my habits. I'd read up on the likely effects on my mind and body. The physical withdrawal from nicotine, the mental cravings, the habit of years which would creep up on me.

What I didn't expect was to find myself in a hospital emergency room with a blood pressure of 157/101. I have never heard of that happening to anyone else. Whether I was having a panic attack because I knew I couldn't have a cigarette, or whether it was a rare side effect of nicotine withdrawal is a moot point.

I left work and went to the nearest hospital as quickly as I could. I thought I was having a heart attack.

Aside from the blood pressure, the old ticker was fine. The doctor gave me some betablockers and some nice, happy, highly restricted pills which meant I couldn't drive to work for a few days.

I haven't had a repeat of the experience, for which I'm profoundly grateful.

I'm still occasionally getting cravings, but I've managed to overcome them so far. I haven't fallen off the wagon.

Since I gave up, I feel fitter. My breathing is better and I have more energy. The difference is amazing. And in ten years my chances of heart failure will be no worse than someone who's never smoked. In 20 years, when I'll be 61, my chances of getting lung cancer will be the same as a non-smoker.

You'll have to excuse me. Even writing about the things — despite the blood pressure issue — is causing some cravings. I'm off for a short walk and piece of sugar-free chewing gum.

Do you have a similar success story of quitting smoking? Tell us by clicking on the Post a Comment link below.