Why it’s almost impossible to quit tobacco
This is what you could be forgiven for thinking if you look at the website of the cheerfully named American Cancer Society:
A subheading raises the ominous question: Why is it so hard to quit tobacco?
Well, that’s encouraging for a start. Quitting tobacco is so hard. Now we find out why:
Stopping or cutting back on tobacco causes symptoms of nicotine withdrawal…Physically, your body is reacting to the absence of nicotine. Mentally, you are faced with giving up a habit, which calls for a major change in behavior. Emotionally, you might feel like as if (sic) you’ve lost your best friend.
There’s no danger in nicotine withdrawal, but the symptoms can be uncomfortable. They usually start within a few hours and peak about 2 to 3 days later when most of the nicotine and its by-products are out of the body. Withdrawal symptoms can last a few days to up to several weeks.
Oh dear. And now we learn that:
Nicotine withdrawal symptoms can include any of the following:
- Dizziness (which may last a day or 2 after quitting)
- Feelings of frustration, impatience, and anger
- Trouble sleeping, including trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, and having bad dreams or even nightmares
- Trouble concentrating
- Restlessness or boredom
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
- Slower heart rate
- Constipation and gas
- Cough, dry mouth, sore throat, and nasal drip
- Chest tightness
Do they mean you may suffer more than one or even all these symptoms?
If you believe this it’s no wonder it seems so hard to quit tobacco!
It’s so hard to quit, remember, and your body will react to the absence of nicotine. Not only that but you’ll be faced with a major change which might feel like as if you’ve lost your best friend. Further, a smoker contemplating quitting and reading this long list of frightening withdrawal symptoms is going to be in a panic by the time he or she has got to the end of it. Even boredom is mentioned as a withdrawal symptom.
But of course, smoking doesn’t just occupy and waste time. Oscar Wilde recognised this in his famous play, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), where Jack Worthing (Earnest) is being interviewed by his formidable future mother-in-law, Lady Bracknell.
LADY BRACKNELL: Do you smoke?
JACK WORTHING: Well, yes, I must admit I smoke.
LADY BRACKNELL: I’m glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind. There are far too many idle men in London as it is.
Why not just say the withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, or, more accurately, say they can be mildly uncomfortable. Anyone, surely, can put up with mild discomfort for a few days but not with all these unpleasant symptoms lasting up to several weeks.
What is worse—indeed, misleading—is that this list of distressing sensations, mental feelings, and physical pain (headaches) is grossly exaggerated or untrue. I have asked hundreds of smokers what they feel, if anything, when they stop smoking for a while, or permanently, and they almost never say such things. See https://www.nicotinemonkey.com/smoking-withdrawal-symptoms-and-readiness-to-quit/
Where do these lists come from? They seem to be copied from one journal article or internet site to another and become ingrained in the collective consciousness of the smoking cessation industry as gospel truths.
Is it any wonder, with help like this, that smokers trying, that is, failing, to quit are almost defeated before they start?
Text © Gabriel Symonds