How Not to Stop Smoking – Part III
In the Tobacco Control Industry three unhelpful concepts regularly crop up in learned articles in scholarly journals. Or scholarly articles in learned journals.
Trying to give up
This is the idea that is derived from the common response people give if asked whether they smoke. If they do, they’re likely to say, ‘Yes—but I’m trying to give up.’
It’s the classic head-heart conflict. All smokers, if they’re honest with themselves, wish they didn’t smoke. This is the head or logical part. But for some reason they seem to have an almost irresistible desire to keep doing it—the heart or feeling part. They may try to justify it to themselves by saying they enjoy smoking, it helps them relax or that it relieves stress—the enjoyable or helpful cigarette. But if one looks into these proffered reasons, even a cursory enquiry will show they don’t make sense: they’re rationalisations or attempts at justification.
Incidentally, why should a smoker need justification or an excuse to smoke? And to whom is it directed? To the smokers themselves, their loved-ones or society in general? The fact that a smoker appears to need justification or an excuse for smoking merely points up the conflict.
If a smoker says, ‘I smoke, but I’m trying to give up’, what this really means is that the smoker is failing to give up, and this is demonstrated every time he or she lights another cigarette.
What does ‘trying to give up’ or ‘making a quit attempt’ mean anyway? These phrases are commonplace in the medical and specialist smoking cessation literature and what they seem to mean are merely the smoker saying that he or she is trying to give up or is making a quit attempt. One can even read about smokers who are ‘thinking about making a quit attempt’.
The whole idea of trying to quit or making a quit attempt should be seen for what it is: not as the expression of a desire to quit smoking, but as a statement of an intention to continue. Such expresions, therefore, are meaningless. You don’t need to try to quit smoking; you just need to quit! It’s the ‘trying’ that’s the problem. Those who stop, stop; those to try to stop, smoke.
Worse, it plays along with the mindset of many smokers who in their heart of hearts don’t really want to give up smoking. But if they can delude themselves that they’re ‘trying’ to quit, it lets them off the hook—they can carry on for a bit longer, or a lot longer. This is doubly unfortunate because it also reinforces the illusion which many smokers have that there’s something enjoyable or helpful about smoking, so they have a reason for putting off the fateful day when they take the plunge and actually quit.
Not yet ready to quit
A related concept is the idea of being ready, or not, to quit smoking: ‘I smoke, but I’m not yet ready to quit.’ So that’s all right then.
In their heads, all smokers wish they didn’t have to go through life poisoning themselves with tobacco smoke, but in their hearts they find it more comfortable to carry on, at least for the time being. So they’re always looking for an excuse, even if they don’t admit it: ‘I want to give up, but not now, not yet. I’m not ready.’
The reality is that smokers in a sense will never be ready to quit—that’s why they’re smokers. Of course, many smokers do quit and one can then say that they were ready at that point, but it’s stating the obvious. It’s the ‘not yet’ part, like the ‘trying’ part of quitting, that’s the problem. Those who are ready, quit, and those who aren’t, smoke. For many smokers the idea of readiness really means the lack of it: an excuse to continue smoking.
Further, the idea of readiness is reflected in the common advice that one should ‘prepare’ to quit. Nearly all stop smoking methods will tell you to pick a date in the near future when you intend to quit. I have posted a blog previously on why this is a bad idea: https://www.nicotinemonkey.com/why-its-a-bad-idea-to-set-a-quit-date
Way, method, technique, or process of quitting
Another unhelpful idea in smoking cessation is mention of a method or technique or way to do it. These usually involve nicotine products, prescription drugs or gimmicks such as hypnosis, acupuncture, magnets in your ears or even laser treatment. This is curious. Why should you need a technique to stop doing something?
Similarly, many smoking cessation so-called experts talk of quitting as a process or journey. It’s no such thing. You stub our your last cigarette—and you’re in a new state or situation: the happy one of being, and remaining, a non-smoker.
There are further problems with the view that you need a way or method or technique to quit smoking. As with notions of ‘trying’ (that is, failing) or of being ‘ready’ (unready) to quit, as well as reinforcing the fear that quitting is terribly hard, it provides a built-in excuse for failure. The smoker can say, it—the technique, method or whatever it was—didn’t work! Further, it ties in with the smoker’s mind-set, though this may not be consciously admitted, that they don’t really want to quit, so again they can blame the technique or method for their failure, if they fail.
A better way
Smoking cessation research should look into the psychological aspects of successful quitting. How did smokers do it who stopped abruptly and didn’t start again? How is it a smoker can go on an intercontinental flight without difficulty yet on the ground has a strong desire to smoke every forty minutes?
What will be discovered is that those former smokers who put their mind to it, didn’t need will-power to refrain from what they no longer wanted to do and thus had no difficulty thenceforth in ceasing to poison themselves with tobacco fumes.
Text © Gabriel Symonds