My failed attempts to quit smoking, of which there were many, made me a charitable man. If someone outside the bar asked to bum a smoke I gave them three or five and waved away their offer of paying a buck. I’d be driving with a freshly opened pack of Camel Lights and freshly lit butt in my hand when a fit of coughing followed by rage would hit, and I’d chuck the remaining box of 19 out the window. Good riddance, you evil fuckers! No more! Three hours later you’d find me exiting a 7-Eleven with a new cigarette between my lips, an expatriate sneaking back across the border into flavor country.
This is a fairly pedestrian cycle of self-abuse. The American Cancer Society estimates only 4 to 7 percent of people are able to quit smoking on any given attempt without using medicine, and even if you do use an aid your odds of keeping smoke-free for more than six months are only about 25 percent. John Dicey knows this struggle as well as anyone. He once supported a 70-stick-a-day habit. Today he’s the worldwide director of smoking cessation program Allen Carr’s Easyway and has treated more than 30,000 nicotine addicts. Dicey called Inverse from his office in London to answer questions on how to better your odds at a clean break.
I must’ve quit smoking a hundred times before it finally took. What can we do to make it easier?
Set a date in advance and make that your quit date, but don’t try to cut down or control how much you smoke until then. Cutting down makes cigarettes seem more precious. The important thing isn’t to make it feel as if you’re giving something up, it’s to make you feel as if you’re escaping something.
Even though smoking made me feel like shit, before I finally did quit I always felt like I was giving up something.
Generally smokers don’t like being a smoker, or they don’t actually like smoking but they like being a smoker. All smokers know it’s bad for them and it’s costing them a fortune, but quitting smoking scares them. And when they’re scared, they smoke. I must smoke, or X will happen, they think. So that’s another key. Concentrate on what it’s like to be free. In your mind, accept that you’re free.
You have to be aware of nicotine withdrawal, you know? It’s a very mild feeling but we make it out to be so much worse than it is. All those years I tried to quit using willpower I felt rage, anger. None of it was actually caused by nicotine withdrawal. It’s caused by the thought that your era as a smoker is over, that you’ve somehow been forced to give it up. Nicotine withdrawal by itself is nothing. Most smokers, it wouldn’t even wake them up. So be aware of that, but that’s really only a small part of it.
Do e-cigs and meds make it easier?
Our advice is not to use any substitutes at all, especially those that contain nicotine. Then you never get free. This is where the Allen Carr method comes in, not to just push an advertisement for us …
I wouldn’t respect you if you didn’t shill a little.
Well, what we do is we take a smoker and we ask them to make a list of all the benefits they think they get out of being a smoker and then we break it down point by point to show you why it isn’t really a benefit. Someone might say it relaxes me. We’d say, no, it doesn’t. All it’s doing is alleviating the stress of not smoking you’ve been feeling ever since that last cigarette. What you’re thinking of as being relaxed is what other people call feeling normal. Also, don’t try and distract yourself — deal with what you’re feeling. Get yourself to a place where you can think about them without feeling you have to have one and don’t try to think about pink telephones or something.
Once I’m clean, then what?
Once you’re free, never be fooled into thinking you can have the occasional cigarette. Just one puff, just one cigarette, cigar, or a joint with some weed rolled up with tobacco — well, I guess maybe that isn’t something that’s a big thing in the U.S. — anyway, no, you can’t have it. Or you’ll start the cycle all over again.