As it’s that time of year again there might be the odd prospective New-Year quitter searching for a little guidance and I thought I’d post my annual nugget in the hope that it might be the catalyst to help someone along the fabulously happy road of freedom.
We’re approaching the big night when traditionally a smoker’s thoughts often turn to giving up the evil weed and it’s a bit scary what with being an addict and all that…
Popular culture has allowed us to see the angst involved in breaking free from any addiction but I think it’s crucial in the early days to understand what we’re actually breaking free from. The picture that’s painted and believed is dramatically different to that which is generally experienced.
Smokers do not really smoke because of nicotine at all, even if they are utterly convinced they do. If they’re addicted to anything it’s possibly dopamine but even then it’s stretching things a bit.
The euphoric release that some of us experience as the fat and sugar of a chunk of dairy Milk coats our teeth or Lucky Jim starts to make a strong run for home in those final furlongs is just chemically triggered by smoking. The poison Nicotine is a stimulant that will perk you up yet its dopamine payload is what calms us.
The first ‘trick’ is to put tobacco addiction where it belongs: next to chocolate and gambling addictions. These are compulsive habits and abrupt cessation will not cause any physical danger.
At first glance the nicotine addiction theory holds a lot of water and luckily any leaks can be plugged by an astonishing amount of myths and creative statistics. Bear in mind that it’s part of a multi-billion dollar industry and there are good grounds for its success.
As sophisms go it’s not dreadful, after all, if a smoker can use their perceived nicotine addiction as a weapon to quit then it’s advantageous, however, the reverse is more often than not the reality.
Most smokers, in their day to day routine, never go without nicotine for long enough to experience any withdrawal and it is the unusual smoker that has a fag the moment they wake up. When we quit things are different. By day three we’re experiencing genuine withdrawal and our bodies know it. Luckily knowledge will help us through it and it’s one of the reasons that Stoptober seems to be working well.
When I look back at my own quit I’m quite surprised how long I managed to stick with the addiction theory, modifying it to suit the way I smoked even to the ludicrous conclusion of separating my fags into “wants” and “needs” so that I was able to identify those smokes that fed my addiction and those that were casual fags for the fun of it. I managed to answer most of my questions but there were some biggies that seemed to have accepted answers that were frankly rubbish. Bizarrely in every packet of fags I smoked there was my morning fag, my after eating fag, my after sex fag and my calming bedtime fag. There were a few ‘calm me down’ smokes, a few ‘perk me up’ smokes and one or two ‘help me concentrate’ smokes and despite looking, not one of them was labelled yet I managed to select the correct one each time.
Every study I read, every published paper I worked through added more questions and fewer answers until I realised I was looking in the wrong place. The vast majority of stop smoking data is indirectly connected to the pharmaceutical companies and therefore biased towards their products. Not unsurprisingly the pro-smoking groups with the burden of the smoking ban chip-on-their-shoulder are very good at winkling out the data and had done a fabulous job. Of course their reasons were more of a battle with the smoking ban, their loss of ‘freedom’ and the myths surrounding secondhand smoke. Exploding the nicotine myth is very low on their agenda and I’m sure a goodly proportion of them think of themselves as addicted. (Addicted to a substance more addictive than Heroin apparently, but sold on the lower shelves of ASDA, fancy that.)
Nicotine is a toxin, one of many in cigarette smoke, and certainly present in nicotine patches, gums, sweeties, puffers, lozenges, creams, cheese slices and Nick O’Tine’s medicinal jam. Unfortunately it’s not actually physically addictive, despite a lot of research, and you can’t get lab rats, monkeys and beagles hooked on it. The tobacco giant denied its addictiveness for years until it was in their interests to change their tune.
As smokers we eventually learn to tolerate its presence in our bodies and when we stop consuming it our bodies take a week or two to acclimatise to its absence. You can purge it quickly by just stopping consuming it or you can drag it out over twelve profitable weeks if you’re feeling a bit gung ho with taxpayer’s money. Either way combating the effects of nicotine cessation is actually a little easier than slipping off a Teflon coated log floating in a pool of oil. The cold-turkey quitter and the NRT quitter both have exactly the same battle against stopping smoking but the NRT quitter chooses to purge the nicotine from their system gradually, both very different things.
No-one started smoking for nicotine, no-one smokes for nicotine and no quitters relapse onto nicotine.
Smokers relapse to smoking every time.
You don’t even have to believe me, I’m not trying to sell anything, the exact opposite in fact. In these times of austerity I’d rather the NHS didn’t have to prescribe one useless single NRT prescription and let my gran have a new hip instead.
Smokers do smoke because of cravings, but cravings are nothing to do with nicotine or any other part of the smoke.
Cravings disappear when the smoker lights up, but that is because a craving is simply a mental prompt to repeat the habitual behaviour, triggered by the brain, not by falling nicotine levels, but experienced as a physical compulsive urge that seems to the smoker like a real bodily need. The craving disappears long before the cigarette is smoked and well before the seven second myth of nicotine to brain transit.
Staggeringly the craving is often gone without even lighting up.
Now that NRT has no novelty value it’s no surprise to see cessation rates stabilising around 7% which is comparable with cold-turkey, placebos and bupropian (Zyban). This is just as you’d expect for being prescribed a toxic insecticide to somehow combat a compulsive habit of tobacco use. Similar results can be expected from prescriptions of liquorice allsorts or green tea and I’m more than happy to volunteer for their trials.
The real winners, acupuncture, hypnosis and Mr Carr’s clinics still seem to be achieving 30% success rates and hopefully sooner rather than later the world will wake up to the reasons, which are:
We quit smoking in the subconscious as that’s where we smoke. There isn’t a magic pill that stops us smoking but a method that directly or indirectly passes the message to the subconscious that we no longer have any desire to smoke is proven to be the most successful. Any method with support shows better results that the same method without.
Of course many of us quit without any help or even the “wrong” help by getting “our minds right”
I used to have a nagging question. I repeatedly tried and failed to switch from cigarettes to rollies. It used to frustrate me and I’d find myself lighting up a proper fag pretty much straight after I’d smoked a rollie. On at least two occasions I managed to wean myself exclusively onto rollies for a few months and then I’d have a relapse back onto normal cigarettes. It wasn’t until I quit this time that it finally dawning on me I was simply craving a cigarette. I wasn’t craving a smoke, a cigar, a pipe, nicotine, burning paper, singed flesh or tar, I just wanted a cigarette and only a cigarette would feed the crave.
Similar things can now be observed in E-Cig smokers who still want to smoke despite smoking E-cigs and no-nicotine E-Cig users who still maintain the same habit structure as when they were real smokers.
My advice is to spend one smoking day, maybe a couple, looking at how you smoke. Not just when but also how. See what triggers you to light a fag and how much you smoke and how much you wave it around. If you’re feeling very honest with yourself make a note of how many lit cigarettes you wish you’d not lit because they’re now getting in the way of what you were previously doing.
Once you know why you smoke the steps to cessation become a lot clearer.
Happy New Year.