I'm good at giving up smoking, I really am. I've done it loads of times, so the old joke goes. During the past six years, I've smoked for about three of them. Three months off, three months on is about par for the course for me, a seasoned smoker from the age of 15.

Twenty years of muck in my lungs in return for the thousands of pounds I've spent. Twenty years of "smoking pleasure", coughing and wheezing with a bout or two of pleurisy in between, and ever-hardening arteries.

Each time I give up, I honestly believe I'm going to do it. But this time, I really mean it. No half-hearted cutting down or only smoking after 6pm for me. Cold turkey, it's the only way. It's easy, I've gone a whole 10 days into 1995 without one, no sweat. I don't even want a cigarette. Smug self-congratulation stubbs out any desire for the evil weed. I hug myself with pride, in my new nicotine-free, sweet-smelling, fresh-breathed, healthy state. The very idea of a cigarette would make me retch, I swear.

Soon, breathing becomes easier and I feel I am filling my lungs fuller with air than I ever have before. The lines around my eyes and mouth, from squinting at cigarette smoke and pursing my lips to inhale the horrid stuff, seem to be less pronounced. My eyes look brighter, my skin is glowing and seems to have lost its pasty look. Even my hair looks shinier. I feel really different, significantly better. I can climb the two flights of stairs to my flat without feeling even remotely out of breath.

This is wonderful, incredibly liberating. I don't smoke, I say proudly. No thanks. Not for me. I've quit. I agree with the fervent anti-smoking brigade that cigarette smoking is truly disgusting, a habit only pond life would consider taking up.

Aerobics will be next. I'll need to work out to burn off all the extra calories I'm putting away. I'm not aware of eating that much more, but a pound or two is creeping on. Like a bacon sandwich to a new vegetarian, it's the after-dinner ciggies you really miss, the ones after a really good curry and a cold beer, or a good carbonara with a glass of oaky rioja. An expresso and...? I think I'd better have some tiramisu. Ice-cream? Just one scoop. Just a tiny bit of cheese, then. After Eights? Why no t. Justone. I deserve some treats for my forebearance.

The wanting-not wanting to smoke is pulling me apart. I'm sure the anti-smoking fascists who frantically call for the waiter and start pouting and wafting their arms in restaurants at the merest whiff of cigarette smoke are simply dying for a fag. They just can't admit it. I won't be like that. It's a free country. If people want to kill themselves, that's fine by me. People can still smoke in my flat - on the balcony.

I know why it went wrong before and I'm not going to let it happen again. I know that after about a month the craving should have gone. I know this is when I start to really want one. I know that being around smoking friends is almost impossible. I do feel healthier but a glass of wine if... a glass of wine without the accompanying cigarette will become hell. Suddenly, it begins to feel as if the whole world smokes but me and yet when I'm in smoking mode I usually feel so isolated. One quick pull and I'dbe fine.

How could I ever have been so self-deluding as to actually believe that it will end with one cigarette? Especially when I have fallen into the same old trap so many times before.

I really believe it. Just one, that's all I want. What happens next is that I usually end up buying a pack of 20 the next day and smoking the lot. If you're going to jump, you may as well jump from the 24th floor as the 151st. I'll give up soon again, I always tell myself and I do.

The weight starts to fall off again. I reassure myself that frequent teeth-brushing will protect against fuggy breath. I'll still work out, no reason why not to. I'll eat lots of fruit. And really, what's money?

I end up with an empty purse, a smelly flat, a tight chest and an ad for a new lodger that says "must enjoy passive smoking". But that is a tale of my cloudy, smoke-filled past. I'm 35, I can't go on like this, abusing my body forever. I'm going ski-ing in February. How will I keep up, how will I manage those hard red runs, if I carry on smoking?

It's going to be easy. I'll just avoid all my friends who smoke. Hang on, that's all my friends. Make new friends then. Avoid alcohol altogether. Tricky - you've got to have some pleasure in life.

I start dieting to make sure I don't get fat and depressed. There's nothing worse than depression for cigarette craving. Avoid stress, deadlines, grumpy editors, bad relationships, family quarrels.

Avoid parties, restaurants, pubs, wine bars. I'd better go and live on a desert island. Oh God, this is terrible. The stress is killing me. But I still haven't had one.

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