Smoke Signals

February 18, 2010


It has been 6 months, 2 weeks and 5 days since I extinguished my last cigarette, and I feel great. I was waiting for a flight at the airport the other day and it was comical to see the smokers crowded into McGinty’s (the only place where smoking is permitted at the airport) sucking the life out of their cigarettes, knowing they would go through the pain of withdrawal before they would be able to light up again outside their destination airport several hours later. I am so happy not to be one of their number anymore. I think if you asked, and smokers gave honest answers, they would tell you that they would rather be non-smokers than smokers, especially in this social climate where smokers are treated like lepers. So how should they go about stopping?

I feel qualified to give advice on this matter having successfully stopped smoking on no fewer than three occasions (I define success as being smoke free for at least three months). The first time was when I was a university student and I became addicted to long-distance running, which is antithetical to smoking. That was very easy, but I started again a year later when I got drunk at a friend’s 21st birthday party and accepted an offered cigarette just to see what it would taste like after so long. I bought a packet on the way home, and carried on smoking for another twenty-two years.

Then the company I worked for seconded me to their Birmingham office in the yUK, and I gasped when I saw the price of smokes in that country. I’m not exactly sure where the line is, but R65 for twenty cigarettes is way over it (and this was in 2000, mind you, I shudder to think what they must be now after so many years of New Labour nannying), so when my duty frees were finished I stopped again, this time using the Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) method. Six months later my tour of duty in the cold and wet was over, I was back in the third world, and I started smoking again.

And now the Great Depression II. Our income started to fall as the squeeze began to take effect and we had to cut our budget somehow. An obvious candidate for savings was the R700 per month that I routinely set fire to and burned. This time I went “cold turkey” using the Allen Carr method. It’s quite tough but extremely effective, and I have resolved that this time I’ll make it permanent and never touch another cigarette again.

Scallywag has tried and failed to stop using hypnosis. I have an instinctive gut-feeling that hypnosis is not an altogether kosher technique and would not try it myself; Scallywag’s experience seems to bear that out. It must be said at this juncture that one of the things that endears Scallywag to me is her rebellious nature, possessors of which are notoriously difficult to hypnotise. “Your eyelids are getting heavy,” says the hypnotist. “Bollocks,” thinks Scallywag, “they’re no heavier than usual.” So nothing much happens. Even if it did work I wouldn’t want anyone rummaging about in my psyche, thank you very much. Here’s a quick overview of the various methods and their strengths and weaknesses.

Allen Carr’s Easyway. This worked for me. It is a “cold turkey” (although Allen Carr disapproves of the term) method with no crutches to ease you through the initial withdrawal phase. The method relies on the patient having a thorough insight into the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal, so that there are no surprises and he can deal with the expected discomforts. This comes at the cost of a cheap paperback; you don’t have to attend expensive classes (although they are available for those who cannot read).

Aversion therapy. This involves showing the patient pictures of smoky, cancerous lungs and videos of people breathing (just) through oxygen masks. Like the useless warnings printed on cigarette packets, this does not work at all because firstly you are telling the patient what he already knows, and secondly if x% of smokers get disease y, the patient will believe that he will be in the portion of the smoking population who will not get it.

Hypnosis. Some people swear blind that this works, but I don’t believe them.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). This is based upon the premise that there are two aspects to the smoking addiction: the physical addiction to nicotine, and the psychological habit and rituals of smoking. NRT allows the patient to deal with the psychological withdrawal by taking a nicotine substitute (gum or patches) to keep the physical withdrawal symptoms to a minimum, then when the smoking habit has been broken he can more easily conquer the addiction to nicotine. This worked for me personally, but obviously your mileage may vary. If you do go this route, use the gum not the patches—it is much easier to control the doseage you are taking, and the gum tastes really foul so you have to be in quite severe withdrawal to put it into your mouth and you are much less likely to become addicted to it. By the way, most Medical Aids are happy to pay for these on the grounds that it’s cheaper to do so now than pay for your heart-lung transplant later.

Support groups. Whether in person or on the internet these whining ninnies will drive you to drink, then you’ll have your liver to worry about too. Stay away.

Then there are a bunch of proprietary stop smoking classes like SmokeEnders which I suspect are scams, and I am certain are unnecessary. You should not need to part with enormous sums of money to beat this addiction. Rather rely on your own resources which are free.

Creative Commons License
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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