Review of Allen Carr’s Famous Book

I have a copy of the 4th (2009) edition of Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking. In 2015 the book was re-issued with a foreword by John Dicey. It’s otherwise identical, even to the pagination, to the 4th edition so it’s a bit misleading of Penguin Books to sell this as if it’s a new (6th) edition.

What does John Dicey have to say? He makes some good, if unsubstantiated points. He thinks there’s a conspiracy by the UK government and what he calls the Tobacco Control Establishment to keep smokers hooked on nicotine through promoting e-cigarettes, and to turn a blind eye to children being enticed to become addicted to e-cigarettes whence many may progress to real smoking, because of the huge profit to be made in taxes on tobacco products and e-cigarettes. He may well be right about this.

Allen Carr, who died in 2006, ironically from lung cancer, claims over 90% success from his ‘Easyway’ method as taught in his group sessions on the basis that only 10% of clients ask for their money back.

To get your money back if you’ve failed to quit after sitting through the six-hour session, you must attend two more sessions of three hours within three months of each other, and then if you still haven’t stopped smoking they’ll give you your money back on request. But it’s possible that some people who have failed to quit after the first session feel they can’t face another six hours of similar lecturing and prefer to write off the fee.

While 90% success is claimed, according to a trial done in Holland in 2014 ( the success rate was only 24% to 41% at thirteen months from the time of the session. This is impressive when compared with the best results of so-called nicotine replacement therapy or prescription drugs, but is way off 90%.

On the Allen Carr website, indeed, the 90% is qualified by the statement that ‘Independent scientific studies published in peer review (sic) journals indicate that even after 12 months the success rate remains over 50 per cent.’ But this is what matters – the long-term abstinence rate.

In March 2017 the results were announced of a trial done in Ireland of Allen Carr’s method compared with the orthodox approach. The quit rates at one month were 38% and 20%, respectively, though at three months these had fallen to 27% and 15%, respectively (TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland).

Easy Way to Stop Smoking is written from the perspective of the author’s experience as a claimed former 100-a-day smoker. It is over-long (206 pages), much of it being taken up with an exposition of all the reasons why one should not smoke, as if Allen Carr is trying to persuade smokers they ought to stop. The writing is sexist, smokers nearly always being referred to with masculine pronouns. There are numerous stylistic and grammatical infelicities, e.g., ‘This explanation explains why’ and ‘It started with just Joyce and I at home.’

Many of the medical aspects of the effects of smoking are crudely, inaccurately and repetitively stated:

The ‘gunge’ never leaves your body completely. (p34)

This progressive process of gunging-up and starvation of oxygen and nutrients. (p86)

The progressive gunging up of our arteries and veins and the gradual starving of every muscle and organ of our bodies of oxygen and nutrients and replacing them with poisons and carbon monoxide. (p79)

The progressive blocking up of the arteries and veins with poison starves the brain of oxygen. (p53)

The gradual and progressive deterioration of our immune system caused by this gunging-up process. (p80)

How can your immune system work effectively when you are starving every muscle and organ of oxygen and nutrients and replacing them with carbon monoxide and poisons? (p80)

The cigarette not only destroys your nerves but is a powerful poison. (p49)

Smoking gradually destroys your immune system. (p81)

Smoking coagulates the blood…and the brownish red colour was due to lack of oxygen. (p82)

This is absurd, and should be rewritten by someone with the appropriate expertise.

Although he has intuitively grasped why people smoke – because of nicotine addiction and withdrawal symptoms – this is merely repeated frequently; the mechanism of how this makes itself felt is not clearly explained, no doubt because Mr Carr lacked the requisite medical and biological knowledge. Instead, he falls into simplistic layman’s expressions:

Think of the little monster as a sort of tapeworm inside your stomach…the monster inside your body… (p158)

The little monster alive in your body…the big monster alive in your mind. (p162)

What you are trying to achieve when you quit smoking is to kill both the little nicotine monster in your body and the big monster inside your brain. (p168)

He does not refrain from using rather crude scare tactics:

A whole filthy lifetime of spending a small fortune just for the privilege of destroying yourself physically and mentally, a lifetime of slavery, a lifetime of bad breath. (p110)

Cigarettes are filth and poison. (p119)

The drug begins to destroy you physically and mentally. (p119)

It helps to force as many of the filthy things down your throat as possible. (p130)

Filthy drug addiction. (p196)

The smoker is destroying himself physically and mentally…a lifetime of filth, bad breath and stained teeth…a lifetime of destroying himself. (p138)

Inhale the filth deeply into your lungs…put these filthy things in my mouth… (p180)

Smoking is drug addiction, a disease and Number 1 killer in society. (p130)

The cigarette happens to be the Number 1 killer poison in society. (p156)

Smoking is by far the biggest killer in society. (p202)

(Quotations slightly paraphrased for readability.)

Allen Carr’s method may be helpful for some people, but when I was in full-time general practice I would not uncommonly be consulted by patients who told me they had read the book and a few had even attended the ‘clinics’, although they were still smoking.

If the 42% or even the 27% success rates mentioned above are confirmed in further trials, the Allen Carr method would represent a useful advance on orthodox smoking cessation results, but it would still leave a substantial majority who fail to quit.

Allen Carr seemed to recognise this in his modest, if ambiguous, dedication at the front of the book: ‘To the smokers I have failed to cure, I hope it will help them to get free.’

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Gabriel Symonds

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