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.

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

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Bally Ache

November 17, 2009

Lance Armstrong -- Survivor


I am not a doctor. I do, however, possess a body heir to the usual ills, so I take a keen interest in the medical sciences. One thing I have noticed is that genuine medical research is published in medical journals such as the Lancet or the New England Journal of Medicine and doesn’t make it into the mainstream media at all for the most part. If it does, it is often sensationalized by journalists who do not understand how the scientific method or the protocols of medical research work. The result is often something similar to what is reproduced, in all its ghastliness, here.

The treatment is worse than the disease!
Christine O’Brien
Contributor to Nutrition and Healing

The number of problems that survivors of testicular cancer are facing is much higher than previously thought. Simply because mainstream medicine just didn’t bother to take a look until now.

Clinicians only report treatment problems that are life-threatening or require medical intervention. And they only monitor most patients for five to ten years after treatment, meaning that many men suffering the after-effects of toxic cancer treatment have simply fallen through the cracks.

But researchers are finally getting a clue and took a look at data from the past 20 years.

Of course, what they’ve found is more or less all bad news. In a study that appeared in the Journal of the British Association of Urological Surgeons, researchers detailed an alarmingly long list of long-term effects.

Details like: Sensory nerve damage in 10-30% and hearing loss in 20% of patients on cisplatin-based (a platinum-based drug) chemotherapy. Pulmonary complications in men over 40 who are treated with bleomycin (an antibiotic) before surgery. Premature thickening of the arteries. Chronic fatigue in 17% of survivors (that’s nearly twice the normal population). And survivors are nearly TWICE as likely to develop secondary cancer.

This laundry list of threats to your health didn’t keep researchers from reaching for some good news. They reported that, “on a more positive note” up to 80% of men who try for fatherhood after treatment are successful.

I’m sorry, but with the possibility of permanent nerve damage, secondary cancer and hearing impairment, that doesn’t just seem to be enough of a silver lining.

Let’s hope that this serves as an example of why a close look at the long-term is so critical. I couldn’t help but think of the recent swine flu vaccine studies – they gave the drug the seal of approval after only a month of safety trials.

And now there are promises of protection from the pandemic – but who knows what long-term risks are waiting around the corner? And are we willing to sacrifice our lives for short-term benefits?

Let’s start with the title. Is a 20% chance of hearing loss or a 17% chance of developing chronic fatigue years or decades in the future really worse than dying of testicular cancer now? Perhaps Ms O’Brien’s cavalier attitude could be traced to the fact that she, presumably, does not possess testicles, cancerous or otherwise. Or perhaps the nonsensical headline is merely a means of grabbing eyeballs and the actual article might make some sense.

Alas, the first paragraph puts paid to that optimistic hope. The horrible ogre “mainstream medicine” couldn’t be bothered to “take a look until now”. Codswallop. If Ms O’Brien has a means of foretelling the side effects of a treatment given now which will manifest themselves decades in the future she should disclose it now; the medical fraternity will, I’m sure, be agog to hear it and the Nobel Committee will fall over themselves to honour her. Or perhaps she thinks clinical trials should last for a minimum of the average human lifespan before a drug is approved for use.

I think it was Benjamin Disraeli who first referred to “lies, damn lies and statistics”. The problem with statistics is that, whilst they are incredibly useful if properly used, they are extremely easy to misinterpret through ignorance or to misrepresent in an attempt to shore up a shoddy argument. Ms O’Brien has made extensive use of the latter technique here. Let’s have a look.

Firstly, the quoted statistics have little or no relevance to current treatments. Ms O’Brien neglected to tell us that “Some relevant observations, in particular those referring to long-term effects, are from survivors treated with ‘outdated’ therapies, although many of these survivors, treated after 1980 are still alive and with a life-expectancy of 20–30 years.” We are not told this because it makes the whole thesis of the article irrelevant.

17% chance of developing chronic fatigue? Well, unless we read the actual paper we would never know that this is in contrast to 9.5% of men who do not have testicular cancer and that “Compared to those not fatigued, the survivors with chronic fatigue were older, had less education, more unemployment and economic problems, hazardous alcohol use, somatic comorbidity, neurotoxic side-effects, mental distress after treatment, depression, anxiety, and cancerrelated distress, poor HRQL, high level of neuroticism, and a less satisfying sexual life.” Just reading that gives me chronic fatigue.

22% hearing loss? No, 22% ototoxicity, ranging from tinnitus to hearing loss, no other information provided. And so on.

A truly horrifying statistic that Ms O’Brien chose not to present is that 10% more testicular cancer survivors marry than their cancerless brethren. This is where I expect people to point out that correlation does not necessarily mean causation and that some other factor may be at play.

Ms O’Brien concludes her ridiculous rant with the question: “And are we willing to sacrifice our lives for short-term benefits?” But that is precisely what she are asking her readers to do. Sacrifice their lives for fear of long term consequences that may or may not arise in the face of the mortal peril they are facing now.

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