Went from cigarettes to smoke-free - "Quitting one thing at a time"

Bus driver Therese Johansson's journey away from smoking involved e-cigs, stressful bus journeys, a lot of itching and fruit-flavoured nicotine pouches. She is one of over a million Swedes who use alternative nicotine products to stay smoke-free. Vejpkollen met her at her cottage outside Hallsberg. This is her story.

Hallsberg in the mid-1980s. Small rickety cars, souped-up mopeds and concerts in dilapidated ice rinks. Therese Johansson, born in 1969, grew up when hard rock was new and leather with rivets became the latest anti-fashion among unruly youngsters.

"I actually saw W.A.S.P live in Karlskoga. It was awesome" she laughs

Media hysteria and the Non Smoking Generation

For those who don't know, W.A.S.P was the hard rock band that created both media hysteria and moral debate in the early 1980s by waving saw blades and playing with blood on stage. The group 'seduced youth' with suggestive music videos, guitar solos and provocative posters in the magazine Okej. Swedish television even allowed the deeply Christian presenter Siewert Öholm to take a whip and a Bible to "hard rockers" live on TV. The newly formed Non Smoking Generation worked in much the same way, targeting "lost" smokers with snappy slogans and brightly coloured sweatshirts. Moralism and preaching to counter youth culture. Contrasts in a nutshell. 

"We always knew that smoking caused cancer. I remember some lectures in the school auditorium about smoking, but it wasn't really something we thought about. During the break, everyone went to the smoking area and puffed as usual. There was nothing strange about smoking," recalls Therese Johansson.

Started smoking early

She started smoking in the eighth grade, aged 14. Mum and dad smoked cheaply, and at home at the kitchen table her parents rolled their own cigarettes with rolling tobacco and paper.

"I used to help them and quickly learnt to roll cigarettes myself. And, of course, I stole some from home for me and my friends," says Therese.

It was a wild time," she recalls.

"We were a small group who skipped school and caused trouble. We probably thought it was a bit tough to smoke too," says Therese when we meet in Hallsberg, a few kilometres north of the house she rents with her partner Björn. Far away from rivets and pink Non Smoking Generation shirts.

The social smoker

"Smoking stayed with me through my teenage years," she says. Therese does not describe herself as a party animal during her teenage years and smoking was not primarily a "social thing" for her. She sometimes thought about quitting smoking, but alternatives like snus were out of the question. Patches and pills didn't appeal either.

"Well, the "regular" snus was really not my thing. But I have tried most things, I think. I found plasters unpleasant and chewing gum didn't work."

Stressful with cigarettes at work

It was only 13 years later that everything changed. By then she had trained as a bus driver and was living in Gothenburg. There she met her current partner Björn, also a smoker. It was with this new job that the idea of quitting smoking began to grow in earnest.

"When I started driving a bus, it became increasingly difficult to smoke regularly. It was very stressful and we only had short breaks. You barely had time to light a cigarette before it was time to move on. And if I had to go to the loo, it was all over."

E-cigs became the solution

By now, e-cigarettes had become popular. And when a colleague of Björn's showed up at the couple's home with an e-cig, she decided to give it a try with her partner. It turned out to be a good solution.

"I could use the vape to take a quick puff during breaks. No fiddling with packets and lighters. It gave me the nicotine kick and I didn't even think about smoking anymore," she says.

Worked well - for a year

She hasn't smoked since 2018, and neither has her partner. But Therese Johansson's journey away from smoking did not end with a "rainbow-coloured vape and a fruit-flavoured e-liquid" that has become her constant companion, in her pocket.

"I was almost constantly vaping, at least when I had the opportunity. A year went by and it worked well and I had no intention of going back to the cigarette, although I missed the feeling sometimes. At the same time, I thought it was a bit too much weighing. I had the machine in my hand all the time and wanted to get away from it too, eventually."

The vapour made me itch

But in the end, it was something else entirely that made her choose a different path. After about a year, her eyes started to itch. Her body was reacting to something.

"I noticed that my eyes were getting dry all the time. It was terribly itchy at times, and my mouth was often dry. I tried everything to get rid of it, eye drops and ointments. Nothing helped," she says.

Propylene glycol and flavours may irritate

The e-liquid vaporised in a vape contains propylene glycol - a substance that is fairly well known in the medical field and fairly harmless to inhale. However, propylene glycol can also be an irritant to the body, particularly to mucous membranes and, for some who are sensitive, in contact with the skin. It also has the ability to absorb moisture, especially when in vapour form. Some people therefore find vaping dehydrating. Therese was one of them.

"It was frustrating. I went to the doctor who couldn't find the cause. It took a year before I realised that it was due to the weather and steam," says Therese Johansson.

Switched to white snus

She decided to stop using e-cigarettes for a while. And the problems disappeared. 

"It was very nice to get it organised. At the time, I was thinking of quitting nicotine completely as well. But it was a bit too much at the time, especially considering my job. Driving a whole class of teenagers home after school takes a toll on your patience," she laughs.

Instead, when we meet, Therese has a box of white snus in her pocket. She doesn't really know what flavour it is. "Something fruity that tastes good," she jokes. She has been using nicotine pouches for almost three years. And it works well.

"It was actually quite easy to go from the cigar to the vape and then from the e-cig to the nicotine pouches. Much easier than I thought. But the goal is to quit them too. At some point." 

She says a little firmly.

If it works so well, why do you want to stop using nicotine pouches?

"It's better than smoking, and I don't get the side effects of vaping. And I like the nicotine kick, of course. But there are certainly risks associated with snuffing too. What if your teeth fall out?" she laughs and admits that she usually switches the position of the pipe from upper lip to lower lip, "just in case".

"One thing at a time"

"Joking aside, I think I've always found it annoying to be dependent on something. It costs money and becomes a bit restrictive. It would be nice to get rid of it. But one thing at a time, I think. One thing at a time." says Therese Johansson.

She sets off towards the house in the forest. A group of young people have just jumped off a nearby bus. They are shouting verses from a song I heard from one of the kids' tik-tok feeds. It's not W.A.S.P. But it might as well be, I think. 

Want to read more?

Vejpkollen has collected the reports on smoke-free Sweden under the heading of 'Smoke-free country'. (opens in new tab!)

And here you can read versions of the reports in Convenience Stores Sweden News:

Björn Åslander - e-cigs - "It must taste like smoke"

Nikita Lövheden in Partille - e-cigs and heets - "Can't stand tobacco flavours"

Therese Johansson - from W.A.S.P. to nicotine pouches - "One day I want to quit nicotine as well"

Håkan Friedrich - After 40 years he switched to e-cigs and nicotine packs'

Miirza Kadovic - e-cigs - Same feeling with coffee - but better for health and cheaper

Kent Andreasson - Doing well without cigarettes - but not snus?

Amanda Seguel - She is not worried about nicotine addiction

IQOS helped her stop buying cigarettes.

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