I hid the fact I smoked, as no-one in my family smoked and none of my friends smoked. In fact, in the area I lived smoking was frowned upon.
Ajlal Ahmad, 23, moved to the UK from Pakistan in March 2021 to study at university. He has struggled with his sexuality since he was sixteen, and this impacted his mental health. Ajlal started smoking to cope with his depression and anxiety but kept it secret, along with his sexuality.
At first, it was difficult, and I was really sleepy, but gradually I stopped thinking about cigarettes and now I don’t miss them. I feel so much better. I have more stamina and I can walk and run faster.
Ajlal had to put his education on hold to deal with his mental health and is currently living with a friend in Manchester. He quit smoking two months ago to improve his health and help save money.
“I started smoking when I was sixteen to try and help me deal with the stress and anxiety of accepting my sexuality. I had to hide it from my family, as homosexuality is not accepted and if I came out it would have caused huge problems. I didn’t want to bring shame on my family, so I hid who I really was and that was difficult. I even hid the fact I smoked, as no-one in my family smoked and none of my friends smoked. In fact, in the area I lived smoking was frowned upon.
“Even when I moved away to study, I was still a secret smoker. I used to use chewing gum and body spray to disguise the smell. I wasn’t a heavy smoker, as I only smoked eight to 10 cigarettes a day. Then I got the opportunity to come to study at university in the UK, which I was very excited about as thought I could finally be myself. So, after arriving and starting university I came out and told my family back home. Sadly, they reacted the way I thought they would, and it caused a lot of tension between us, which really impacted my mental health.
“I struggled with my university work and unfortunately had to put my education on hold for the time being. I went to stay with a friend in Manchester and they have helped support me, along with LGBT Foundation. I also decided to quit smoking to help improve my physical and mental health, and to save money.
“This was the first time I tried to quit smoking, but I knew I had to do it. I managed to quit about two months ago, I just used normal chewing gum and drank lots of tea. At first, it was difficult, and I was really sleepy, but gradually I stopped thinking about cigarettes and now I don’t miss them. I feel so much better. I have more stamina and I can walk and run faster. My clothes and breath no longer smell, which I really like.
“My advice to anyone who is thinking about quitting, is you will find it difficult but don’t give up. Keep going and if you don’t succeed the first time, try again. You will definitely notice the benefits and feel much better. It has also helped me save money which I can now spend on other things.”