‘Up in Smoke’
I became an avid fan of smoking cigarettes aged about twelve or thirteen. Now in semi-recovery, that is to say that I have quit again, I have smoked off and on, mainly on for over thirty years. That is not a record that I am particularly proud of, but then it is not something that I lose much sleep about. Some guilt for sure, mainly as I secretly smoked my way through my first marriage to an avid or rather, rabid anti-smoker.
In Bulgaria, where I lived for three years from the first day of Bulgaria’s membership of the European Union in 2007 to the end of 2009 the idea of quitting started to seem like a good idea. Not financially. Today in the still (just) United Kingdom a packet of my favourite fags (that is British English slang for cigarette), a strong one branded red white and black, costs £8.27 for a pack, (EUR 10, $13.70) while in Bulgaria a pack is about 4 Leva (Lions!) which is exactly EUR 2.05, as the exchange rate is fixed to Euro, and today £1.60 or $2.81. Not a lot for a packet of tobacco so strong it could kill a cowboy, these fags are that good.
I digress. I am in recovery. I follow people about that are smoking in public, when I find their hiding places; I seek out draughty doorways, alleyways with litter in them.
Nor strictly was it to do with health, because I did not really think about that due to the cunning way in which the habit expertly buries all the black shadows in the lung stuff to the darkest recesses of the mind, there to stay safely buried in the echo chamber of cliché – another nail in the coffin, five minutes off your life for every one smoked, and so on.
No. The reason was based on an ingrained sense of duty not to conform and married to sheer bloody-mindedness. Non-conformity with the majority that is, for the majority of Bulgarians are serious, dedicated chain smokers. It was not unusual to see chic girls (Balkan chic, more on that elsewhere) young and sexy in an in-your- face sort of way, lighting up in between the low fat options and sometimes half way through a salad.
Prior to the smoking ban in enclosed public spaces that arrived locally on June 1st 2012, all pubs, cafes and restaurants bar McDonalds were thick with smoke, cliché thick with smoke, smoke that you could slice with a knife. Part of me still thinks that maybe this is more honest and a better thing than all the guilt and hypocrisy that is common in the UK and too of the pariah status that is ladled on smokers there, but I caved, I quit. I do not preach though to those who continue to smoke though.
I tolerate, I do not encourage; I have Dutch ancestors.
I have been fairly successful too, but I have always had help, a secret weapon in the form of an herbal concoction that has been available in Bulgaria for many years: Tabex.
Tabex is manufactured by the large formally state owned pharmaceutical company Sopharma. Well it is based in Sofia and it is a pharmaceutical company, so they sat around for ages to come up with a name.
However, this product is worth buying the company for, and if you are a cigarette manufacturer, shutting down production.
Tabex is an ingenious concoction. Like most modern drugs – the majority in fact – it is made from a plant. The active ingredient – cytisine – is found in several plants including golden chain (Laburnam), and also in Māmane (Sophora chrysophylla) which is very common in Hawaii and in which the cytosine can reach a concentration that is lethal to most mammals excluding sheep and goats who are apparently immune to it, along with one or two birds and a caterpillar that eats the stuff it to make itself poisonous to avoid getting eaten.
Man is of course a mammal, albeit quite an evolved one, but according to the instructions Tabex does not contain enough cytisine to be lethal to us. The drug has after all been tested on mice in high doses and not one of them died from poisoning, though it is not reported if any successfully quit smoking.
The clever thing is this. Cytisine is an alkaloid chemical that is very similar to nicotine. So on consumption the cytisine molecules rush to something called the nicotinic receptors in the brain and the brain then sends out the signal that it has had its nicotine hit. The even cleverer thing is that cytisine is not addictive. So the idea is that while taking it you can stop smoking and get past the worst aspects of quitting.
So the deal is that you start taking the tablets and that you keep smoking the tabs. You start with five a day [I went for more like ten to fifteen] and gradually reduce the dose over about a month.
Take it as read and the total gospel from me that after about three or four days you start to wonder why you are putting a burning plant in your mouth and inhaling the smoke. After a maximum of a week – at least for me – you just stop smoking one morning, and about the same time you just do not want to even look at a cigarette. You start to look at people smoking in doorways and down alleyways, when you can find them, like they are stark raving mad. True if like me you overdo it, you get a bit breathless for some reason, perhaps because it is a lethal poison to mammals, including those mammals evolved enough to opt to take it in high doses.
In short Tabex works.
It is not a placebo effect either. I have a dedicated addictive personality and very little will power. If Tabex is a placebo it would never have worked on me.
Fact is, the United Kingdom National Health Service agrees. Not so long ago it said in public that Tabex is effective. I suspect that other pharma companies have taken the cytisine molecule and rearranged it slightly, re-branded it and are selling it at a high price and champix for example, which is a synthetically built molecule that happens to, guess, bond with those nicotinic receptors in our evolved brains.
It is cheap as well. A packet of 100 pills costs about 20 Euros or £16.50.
A guaranteed painless quit. Shrill morals and boorish lectures aside that is good mathematics pure and simple.
Sopharma by the way make several different potions that are not quite approved by Western legislators. One other that I experimented with is called Tribestan. This one is not detected in the blood somehow, and was a great favourite of the muscle bound weight lifters from the Eastern Bloc that used to dominate the Olympics.
Let’s just say that it also puts lead in one’s pencil, and leave it at that shall we.