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Around The Sun: Weed Kicking

Steve Harrison sees the light and turns his back on the deadly weed.

Cigarettes are weapons of mass destruction. Every year millions of lives are damaged or destroyed by this legal drug.

I smoked three packets of cigarettes per day for about 10 years. The habit started with a couple of menthol cigs in my late teens, and escalated out of control. I not only smoked store-bought cigarettes. I rolled my own, looking for discarded cigarettes to recycle as I wandered the streets.

When I fell asleep at night I often dreamed that I was smoking, waking in a panic in the belief that the bed was on fire. I would light a cigarette, smoke for a while, then fall asleep and experience a similar dream. I loved the first cigarette of the day, that intoxicating dizziness.

I wanted to stop smoking, but nicotine held me tightly in her grip.

In 1978, after working in the Middle East for a time, I was living with my long-time girlfriend Jacquie, though with no intention of marrying her. I loved going home to West Yorkshire to see my Dad who was as dependable as a Swiss watch. He always went out for a late drink at the Walkers Arms Pub. Two or three at the most, then home to bed. His routine never varied. He was a simple man, hard-working, faithful and honest.

He taught me practical things: how to replace a fuse, do simple electrical wiring, repair a car engine. He did not teach me that the world is a scary place, that I should be afraid in it. When I told him I was going travelling to some far-off country his only advice was "Have a good time, and send your Mum a postcard now and then.''

I remember him popping off to the pub when I was a child. He'd say "See you later'' to Mum. I'd hear the door close, and his footsteps in the street. I would also hear his cough. Then I stared into the darkness, dreading the thought of a world without him. Around 11 o'clock I would hear the cough returning, and a key turning in a lock. Then I would fall into a deep and comfortable sleep.

When I returned home to Yorkshire I always popped into the Walkers Arms unannounced, just to surprise him. He would be sitting in his favourite place. When he saw me a grin would spread across his face from ear to ear. We didn't talk much. The bond was strong enough to make words unnecessary. I always felt at peace in his company. He always wore a jacket and tie. And he always looked to be content, a cigarette burning between nicotine-stained fingers, a pint of Guinness in one hand, and his only son at his side.

Dad coughed all the time. He had coughing fits. Too many cigarettes and too long working down coal mines. Sometimes in a coughing fit his face became bright red and his neck began to swell. On one occasion he toppled like a great oak tree. I was scared. I thought he was dying. But he revived.

Weeks after that happened I was walking in woods, climbing a steep hill. I stoppesd to light a cigarette. I was out of breath, puffing and panting. I imagined myself as a young boy, running ahead, full of vigour. Then I became my father. I was no longer that boy. Things suddenly made sense. My father's lungs were ruined. Mine were headed in the same direction. I needed to restore my youth.

That night I prayed one of those prayers when you know you really are praying. I vowed to stop smoking for ever, and I asked God to help me. I tossed around, begging and bargaining, drenched in sweat. My prayer seemed to last for hours.

I awoke feeling refreshed and invigorated. Normally I would have lit a ciogarette, but this day was different. I had no desire to do so.

I have not smoked since that day. I no longer crave cigarettes, even when surrounded by smokers.

Now that is what I call a miracle.

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