Inhale Poison to Stop Smoking
Since I’m on their mailing list, I’ve once again started receiving notices of the forthcoming 2017 version of the so-called Stoptober anti-smoking effort put out by Public Health England (part of the UK Department of Health).
It’s not my intention to mock this campaign. Smoking is a serious problem and anything that helps people to quit is to be welcomed. However, as in previous years, the approach used lays itself open to parody.
The first message encourages me to ‘keep motivated’ to stop smoking. (I am of course a non-smoker and have signed up purely for professional purposes.)
Let’s have a look at this phrase, because it contains one of the many paradoxes of the current official attempts to deal with the smoking problem.
Encouragement to keep motivated suggests that smokers are in a similar position to middle-aged couch potatoes who should get off their backsides. One certainly needs motivation to overcome one’s natural resistance to exercise and start on the road to fitness.
Smokers, however, are not in this situation. Is the reason they smoke because they lack the motivation to quit? Is it believed that if only smokers could increase their motivation to a certain degree, this would tip the balance so they would actually quit? Most smokers have plenty of motivation already – they don’t want to get lung cancer – but they seem to be unable to act on it. Why is this? Insufficiency of motivation is not the problem.
Stoptober seems to be trying to persuade smokers they ought to stop, as of course they should. But is this the best way to go about it?
The sub-text is that if only smokers realised the risks they run by continuing to smoke, and if only they could appreciate the benefits of quitting, then they might be sufficiently motivated to make a quit attempt. This approach is based on logic, common sense and the need to use willpower to refrain from the apparently irresistible urge that smokers have to keep smoking. Then, with the increased motivation to be provided by the twenty-eight daily inspirational sound-bites (or whatever they will turn out to be) of this year’s Stoptober campaign, the participants – if they can only hold out for twenty-eight days – will find themselves in the fortunate position, like the chance to be entered into a lottery, of being five times more likely to quit! This curious statement is from the Stoptober 2016 version of which my critique can be found here.
The next message asks, ‘Have you got a Quit Buddy?’ This means ‘Someone you can call on when you need help.’ There we go again: stopping smoking is too difficult to do on your own so you need someone to call on when (not if) you need help. How encouraging! And what is that someone supposed to do? Say ‘There, there, don’t worry, the horrible cravings and urges will soon pass! Stay strong! You can do it! Remember, if you can survive for twenty-eight days, you’ll be five times more likely to quit for good!’
Today’s message is as follows:
Have you thought about using a stop smoking aid? There are lots of aids to help you quit, including prescription tables [sic], NRT (such as patches, gum, lozenges) and even e-cigarettes. Talk to your GP, pharmacist, local stop smoking service or vape shop to find out more.
Why should a smoker need an aid to quit? Again, the implication is that it’s too difficult to do on your own. However, the suggested aids for 2017 are not just the same old nicotine products and prescription drugs, but now we have e-cigarettes! One way to find out about these is to pop along to your local vape shop.
This is where I must part company with Stoptober. It speaks of the ineffectiveness of the previous Stoptober campaigns (they started in 2012) that they have to throw in a new way of keeping your nicotine addiction going. And vape shop owners must be rubbing their hands in anticipation of juicy profits at this now official endorsement of their products. I think it’s irresponsible.
As I have said before, proffering e-cigarettes as a stop-smoking aid is misleading. For many smokers who take up vaping, it merely amounts a new way of continuing their nicotine addiction, maybe indefinitely. Whether it’s really less harmful than smoking, only time will tell.
Text © Gabriel Symonds