There’s nothing quite like the feeling of riding a bike downhill – effortless speed, and the world rushing by as you project casual gracefulness. If this was all there was to it we would spend a lot more time on our bikes.
I, however, live in Edinburgh, a notoriously hilly place. And I’m only too aware there is another side to the story. Every bit of gradient that can be enjoyed freewheeling has to be paid for with uphill effort – what coasts down, must slog up. And then there’s the traffic. And the rain. And arriving at the office in lycra.
All things considered I prefer to walk to work.
I’ve been thinking about this as we look through the results of various focus groups ASH Scotland has organised recently. We’re spending time listening to people about smoking – and I’m struck by how often the idea of the relief and pleasure from taking a drag comes from people who nevertheless say that they want to stop. One of the things we’re learning about is how clearly people understand that the positives they look for in smoking come with a variety of associated costs.
So when we say that most people who smoke want to stop, we’re not suggesting that people never get any satisfaction or utility from smoking – people who smoke tell us that they do, and as an ex-smoker I remember it very clearly. But people who smoke also tell of the downsides – for example how you can’t have the satisfaction of relief from cravings without having to endure the cravings first or the frustration of struggling to climb stairs.
It is in the Scottish Health Survey 70% of people who smoke say that they want to stop. Usefully the survey also asks questions on mental well-being, so that people’s views on how they are feeling can be compared against smoking status.
Combining data from these two sections over recent years we can see for example that smoking is 33% higher among those reporting anxiety, when compared to the general population. But is smoking leading to unhappiness, or is it that people who are unhappy look to smoking for support? Once again we need to ask smokers themselves.
A number of studies, such as this or this, asking smokers about their experiences indicate that while many smokers are initially worried that stopping smoking will make them less happy, ex-smokers overwhelmingly report being happier after quitting.
So, just for the moment, leave aside the competing messages from those who want to promote either health or cigarette sales. Ask smokers themselves and the answer comes out loud and clear – be smoke-free, be happier.