A mum-of-two has revealed she eats eight cigarette butts a day after developing a rare eating disorder.
Karen Kaheni, 42, developed an overwhelming desire to munch on the ends of her JPS Blue cigarettes last year – and soon after started yearning for blackboard chalk as well.
The heavy smoker, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, east the cigarette butts as she watches TV every evening.
“It’s really embarrassing and I have no idea what triggered it,” she said.
“It isn’t so much the taste of the cigarette butts or the chalk that I like – it’s more the texture and the crunch.
“Now though, my cravings are so strong that when I run out of chalk or don’t have a cigarette at hand, I get quite agitated and my mouth begins to water.
“It’s a real addiction.”
Karen, who is blind and has two daughters Danielle, 23, and Sara, 21, remembers wanting to eat chalk while she was carrying her youngest girl.
But she has no idea what prompted her full-blown addiction, which began 20 years later.
“I had quite a late pregnancy and towards the last few weeks, I remember getting this massive urge to grind my teeth on something hard and chalky,” she recalled.
“I’d find myself fantasising about the old blackboard chalk that we had at school.”
But Karen – who cannot work because of her disability – never acted out on her weird impulses and after Sara’s birth the urge to eat chalk disappeared, until 2017 when, from nowhere, she was overwhelmed with a desire to munch on cigarette butts.
“Because of my blindness I have to be very careful where I put my fag ends, so I don’t burn the house down,” she said.
“I usually put them in a little tin filled with water, so that they immediately extinguish.
“But, one night while I was watching telly, I just thought, ‘Why not give eating one a try?’
“Again, it was the texture more than anything I was after. The taste was pretty disgusting – very bitter and salty – but I liked the crunch of them in my mouth.”
Very quickly Karen – who smokes between 60 and 80 cigarettes a day – realised it wasn’t a one off craving but a full-blown addiction.
Ashamed of her bizarre habit, Karen, who has been blind since suffering meningitis when she was 12, kept it from her partner Andrew Simon, 42, and her daughters.
But the nicotine-heavy diet began to take its toll on her digestive system, giving her constant diarrhoea.
Despairing when she could not cut down, despite the discomfort, she came clean and told Andrew.
“He looked at me and thought I was a complete weirdo,” she said.
“And I don’t really blame him.
“But he couldn’t help me and I was too embarrassed to go to a doctor about it, so I just kept suffering.”
Karen knew that eating chalk – which contains the chemical elements arsenic and nickel – would be foolish.
So she found a website selling edible natural chalk imported from Russia, for £17 for 250g, which she could eat to her heart’s content.
Her chalk habit has helped her to cut back on eating nub ends – with her now consuming just two or three a day – but, already conscious of being a heavy smoker, she is concerned about the side effects of all elements of her strange diet on her health.
“I don’t really want to tell people about it, especially not doctors, so now only my close family and a few friends know,” she said.
“I did recently discover a Facebook page for people with Pica and that has been really useful for me.
“It’s nice to know that it isn’t just me and there are other people out there with the same problem.
“It makes me feel like less of a weirdo – less like I’m going mad.”