The attempt and not the deed, Confounds us
The 2017 version of Stoptober, as they call it, finished on 28th October. The idea was that if smokers could be encouraged and supported not to smoke for twenty-eight days, they would be ‘five times more likely to quit for good’.
Those who signed up received daily messages of the following kind:
If you’re using stop smoking aids, including e-cigarettes, remember to keep using them.
Count up how much money you’ve saved so far, since quitting smoking
Write down the times when you’ve beaten a craving, or turned down a cigarette. You did it then, so you can do it again, and again.
Keep reminding yourself of all the reasons why you decided to stop smoking.
Having trouble sleeping? Try introducing some activity into your day. A kick about with the kids, a Zumba class, or a brisk walk could really help.
As I said in an earlier post, it’s not my intention to knock the campaign – any way that helps smokers to quit is to be welcomed.
However, is such a campaign the best way to go about it? If this approach were directed to, say, weight reduction in overweight people, it would make some sense. It’s not fully understood why people become overweight and slimming is difficult. Even so, daily encouragement to stick to a diet could be helpful.
With smoking, on the other hand, as far as I recall, the word ‘addiction’ isn’t mentioned and the approach of the campaign implies that people smoke for lack of motivation in stopping.
They claim that
Stoptober has driven over 1 million quit attempts to date and is the biggest mass quit attempt in the country. It is based on research that shows that if you can stop smoking for 28-days, you are five times more likely to stay smokefree for good.
What’s the good of a quit ‘attempt’ and what does it mean anyway? A little thought shows that it’s meaningless. Someone either smokes or they don’t. The idea of a quit attempt – as I have said before but it’s worth repeating – colludes with smokers that as long as they’re ‘trying to stop’ everything is fine. But it’s worse than that. The concept of trying to stop implies it’s going to be difficult – you have keep trying, as in the story of Bruce and the spider. Such an idea is reinforced by the advice to use a stop-smoking aid (it’s too difficult to do on your own) and that you will need support to overcome cravings (scary).
And what’s all this about being five times more likely to stay smokefree (sic) for good if you can stop smoking for 28-days? Five times more likely than what? What research they are referring to? I wrote and asked them.
After some persistence, several months later I receive a reply from an anonymous person in The Better Health Team department of Public Health England. I was referred to a 2008 paper in the European Respiratory Review written by our old friend, Professor Robert West, and a colleague. Yes, there is a graph purporting to show that ‘If you can make it to twenty-eight days smoke-free, you’re five times more likely to quit for good.’ The graph plots sustained abstinence rates against time, though it’s not clear these how these figures are derived. Assuming all this is true, it only proves the obvious: that if you’re a smoker who wants to quit, the longer you can ‘make it’ smoke-free, the more likely you are to remain smoke-free. But what smokers want, surely, is not to learn how to increase their chances of quitting, but how to quit and stay quit.
This doubtless well-intentioned campaign does nothing to help smokers understand why it seems so difficult to quit. Further, it’s discouraging, because it reinforces the notion that a tough time lies ahead and that smokers need to use willpower to refrain from smoking for twenty-eight days. And then what’s supposed to happen? You will have to continue to use willpower for the rest of your life?
It’s even more unfortunate that this year e-cigarettes are recommended as a way of stopping smoking. As I have also pointed out before, this is misleading or at best a half-truth. E-cigarettes provide an alternative way of taking nicotine into your body that, it is hoped, will be safer than smoking. But people who take this route to smoking cessation continue to be addicted to nicotine. It’s defeatist and almost insulting to smokers to suggest they try using e-cigarettes. At least with other stop smoking aids such as nicotine patches and chewing gum there’s a limit to the time one’s expected to continue with them, though not a few use them long-term.
On the other hand, if you go about it the right way you can stop smoking easily without any so-called aids, and even willpower is not required.
For information on this approach see the Symonds Method.
Text © Gabriel Symonds
(The title is from Macbeth)