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How I quit my 20-year smoking habit after failing six times

Aniruddha Mahale
6 min read • 
16 May 2024

Editor’s note: Our writer today is Aniruddha Mahale, with his second piece for us as he goes through a fairly impressive transformation journey. This piece is on how he quit smoking. Sorry, no hacky ideas here, but there’s a lot to learn from his experience. Do read.

Aniruddha is a Mumbai-based lifestyle writer and the author of Get Out, a comprehensive dating guide for gay men. He is currently working on his first full-length fiction novel. Find him at @akneerude on Instagram.


There’s nothing more revolting than the first time you taste a cigarette. It’s audacious. It’s dirty. It’s disgusting.

It’s the best feeling in the whole world.

I lit my first when I was fifteen years old. My friends and I had walked up to the neighbourhood paan shop and baulked at our audacity for asking for an entire pack. Was it greed? Was it foolhardiness? Was it a perverse pleasure to know that we weren’t doing the right thing? I’d never know; things were different in 2001.

I remember standing huddled together – with the fresh anticipation (and anxiety) of kids who were about to do something blatantly illegal – under a dying street light.

It was repugnant. Too much smoke, terrible aftertaste, and all that phlegm. The act itself was very vulgar. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever do this again,’ I wheezed out to my friends, throwing the half-lit cigarette away.

The pack was quickly disposed of (should we put it in a plastic bag first?), tears were shed (that was our pocket money!) and promises were made (never, ever again, okay?)

That was two decades (and probably tens of thousands of cigarettes) ago.


By the time I turned twenty-three, I was a full-time smoker. By twenty-five, I was smoking a pack a day. By twenty-seven, I would get irritable if I didn’t start my day with a smoke. Smoking is infectious – you pick it up when you see other people do it around you.

Every time I lit a new cigarette, I felt like I was right where I belonged.

Look back at all those photographs of celebrities with a cigarette in their mouth in the 90s – they look sensational. Smouldering. Delicious. Sultry. Mysterious. We want to be them. We want to have what they have.

It’s funny how the cigarette becomes exactly that—a symbol of your independence, your rebelliousness, your unwillingness to conform—and then you become chained to it, like millions of others who are unwilling to conform just like you.

Quit Smoking, smoking kills, smoking

        Smokers imprisoned by their smoking addiction.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a love letter to cigarettes. They are bad. They cause the most preventable deaths every year, stain your teeth a dirty yellow, damage almost every organ in your body etc.—the list goes on.

So why do people love smoking so much?

Ask any smoker and they’ll tell you how nicotine is a delicious little treat for your olfactory nerves. If you’ve never smoked in your life, think of the tantalising warmth of freshly baked bread first thing in the morning. That’s what nicotine smells like to a chain smoker. Sourdough, hot out of the oven, now with a sprinkle of carcinogens.

This Willy Wonkafication of the cigarette is crucial to our story because it’s what gets to you every time you think about quitting.

Because you will think of quitting. And you will—with full certainty—fail. By my 31st birthday, I had “quit” several times… a month here, a few weeks there. I’d used self-help books (too bulky) and nicotine patches (too silly) in the past, but nothing worked.

The problem with most smokers is that they quit for a few months, convince themselves that they’ve finally kicked the habit, and use that to rationalise having one again. ‘It’s just this one, I promise,’ I’d say to anyone who would listen.

This is how I tried (and failed) to quit smoking six times.

And then, everything changed the second I decided to turn sober and quit alcohol cold turkey.

🚬 Share this with someone who needs to stub it out


When I quit drinking, I replaced the alcohol-shaped void in my life with a fitness regime. If I kept myself busy in the gym, I’d say to myself, I’d have less time to think about getting a drink. Who has time for alcohol cravings when you’re doing five sets of incline bench presses twice a week?

I’d felt like I had rewired parts of my brain to carve out a whole new personality: one that didn’t scoff at the wellness industry but embraced every bit of it.

Stop drinking? Check. Eat more protein? On it. A gym workout strategy? Sign me up now.

But stop smoking a pack a day? Oh. Oh. No.

Letting alcohol go had been easy but quitting smoking would be a whole different ball game. For one, cigarettes had deeply ingrained themselves in my everyday life at levels that seemed socially permissible (early morning smoke? Yes. Early morning drink? I should probably call my therapist), and also, they were more easily accessible, which made them only that much more difficult to avoid: bars, bus stops, sidewalks, traffic lights — it’s everywhere.

I had started smoking at twenty-three because I thought it was “ridiculously cool,” but at thirty-four, my fitness coach said that cutting down quitting smoking was the one thing that stood between me and the musclebound Greek god that I aspired to turn myself into.

So once again, I decided to quit. But this time something was different. I knew why my cold turkey approach to alcohol had worked. Once you feel like you’re addicted to something, you will always be susceptible to it. The only way to successfully quit would be to have an almost religious fervour against smoking.

The inevitable loop of smoking.

And so, I did.

Because there’s no such thing as a non-smoker who occasionally smokes. You either smoke or you don’t. And if you say that you don’t smoke, that means you can never, under no circumstance ever, no matter what level of duress you find yourself under – even if someone cocks a gun to your head – ever (in Impact Bold size 96 font) smoke a cigarette again. Never.

I just had to make sure I internalised this principle and kept at it.

It was easier said than done.


One fine day, after I’d decided to quit—I woke up bleary-eyed and miserable, and in a few hours, I’d already snapped at three people, been curt on two different email threads, yelled into my pillow, (maybe) cried in the shower, eaten two ginormous breakfasts (and a protein bar), and (maybe) hurled expletives at a few cycling kids for getting in my way. It was 9 a.m.

I was only on day five.

Quitting smoking wears you out – it’s the most exhaustive thing you’ll ever do. Think of the worst dental appointment of your life. Now picture the entire thing without anaesthetics. Say, you were also naked on the chair. And everyone you knew was watching you. Multiply that by ten million. Congratulations, you’ve just about reached how difficult the entire experience is going to be.

Once your body realises you’ve made up your mind to quit, it does everything in its power to get you to smoke again. Mood swings? Oh yes. Ravenous hunger? Maybe a smoke will help curb those. Constant bouts of anger? Okay fine, half a cigarette.

When people say that the first three weeks are the hardest, they aren’t being entirely truthful. You don’t just wake up in week four with zero inclination to smoke, no, of course not, but your body – slowly and sadly, almost at a snail’s pace – accepts defeat and realises your self-resolve is stronger.

You win because your body just gives up. Yes, it will throw the opportune withdrawal symptom your way, but this time you’ll be prepared. You’ll be ready.

Because here’s the silver lining. After a few weeks, the physiological addiction will fade away; it will all seem glacial, but yes, finally, the exhausting war you’ve been waging will be over.

And then?

You change. Your life changes. Yes, there will be some vain, yet valid changes you would see in your pretty little face over time: dull, drooping skin that doesn’t feel as saggy anymore, dark circles that disappear as the weeks go by, no more ugly red blotches, yellow teeth, bad breath slowly fading away—should I go on?

Let me. Your carbon monoxide levels reduce drastically. Your taste buds get their groove back. You’re breathing easier. Walking faster. Not coughing out your lungs anymore. As the days crawl into weeks into months, bit by bit, your body starts responding.

You notice a spike in energy levels, your sinus congestion is all but gone (hello immunity), and you are working out harder (goodbye lethargy). Who’s that over there, pulling more weights at the gym, and living their best life? It’s you. Congratulations, you’re a Brand New Person™—smiling brighter, wider, happier. Nothing can stop you, you are indestructible.

It’s then when you think you could actually do this.

You can make it.

I made it.

🤝 Send this to someone who needs motivation to quit


I haven’t smoked a cigarette in the last eight months.

What was different this time? Why didn’t that just-one-more cigarette appear in my life?

The internet didn’t make it easy to find an answer—which prescribed things like journaling, drinking more water, finding a hobby, and whatever else worked for different people—until I found it myself. All advice from strangers had one underlying pattern: you needed to find something that kept you occupied and do it every day. You needed to vehemently make it your life’s purpose.

A lot of the good life – going sober, working out, eating right, being a nice person – involves showing up every day. Day in and day out, come rain or shine, sickness or lethargy, holiday or deadline, you just need to be there.

That’s it.

There’s no cheat code, magic trick, nor handy hack. I can’t teach you how to quit smoking (just like I’ve told the dozen smoker friends who asked). What worked for me was simple.

And maybe it can work for you – I will not smoke again: it’s a mantra you keep repeating to yourself, day in and day out, till you start believing it. You have to repeat it till it wears you out, till every single fibre of your body can’t think of any other way to be.

   The only mantra smokers need to quit.

As a final word of advice, remember that quitting is mostly a mind game. It’s only as big of a deal or as difficult as you make it. The physical effects and withdrawal symptoms aren’t any worse than those of a common cold.

What I know now is that quitting tears you open and leaves you open. That is the simplest way I can explain it. There is no escape hatch, nowhere to run or hide. You take all the stabilisers off your life. There is nothing to hold onto because this is deeply internal work, and you must turn up every single day. The work begins with one simple, seismic instruction: do not smoke.

But beneath that is a cavern in which lifelong questions reverberate, bellowing for answers. Everything suppressed rises to the surface. Everything you’ve ever pushed down, ignored, batted away, held off facing, comes to party. It’s now your singular job to scrutinise these ‘pain phantoms’ as they present themselves.

You will need a lot more space to process this ‘new version of you’. You will need to spend a lot of alone time adjusting to it. You will retreat from everything, you will return to everything. You’ll laugh at all those weeks, no, months you spent languishing for cigarettes. You will sleep better, you will eat better, and you will live better. Your skin will brighten.

And you will brighten.

Pass it on to those who need to ‘butt’ out!

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