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Commentary: The secret to stopping smoking? Just stop

All it takes to get rid of this ageing, smelly and expensive habit is a decision that you really want to quit.

LONDON: In the spirit of any aspirational self-help guru/writer/wellness entrepreneur, I thought I would use this timely opportunity to lay out my Failsafe Guide for Quitting Cigarettes This Year.

I modestly offer you my strategy for how to stub it out for good. Herewith, my secret formula. The best way to stop smoking — is to stop.

Admittedly, as a methodology, it’s not especially exciting. It doesn’t come with mindful meditation exercises to start you on the quitting “journey”. Nor does it offer a host of spicy condiments to act as substitutes.

I have no reading matter, nicotine inhibitors or any other gadgets, such as vapes, to help you. And yet, my method is absolutely foolproof. Honestly, it can’t be beat. Stopping smoking is a doddle. I promise you it can be done. All it requires is the decision that you really do want to quit.

It has been three years since I wrote, somewhat boldly, about how I had been off the fags for a week. It was possibly a little early to be so confident about my non-smoking future, but the announcement did at least force me to make a real attempt.

Having spent more than two decades sucking on the Marlboros, I had finally realised that smoking wasn’t chic. It was ageing, smelly and expensive.

Plus, I couldn’t stand the thought of sparking my teenager daughter’s own potential habit by leaving unfinished packs of cigarettes around the house.

COMPLICATING THINGS

People like to manufacture hysteria over the act of quitting. Nicotine, they warn, is horribly addictive. We are constantly reminded of how often people fail.

Vast tranches of the UK’s health service are geared towards cessation, with huge budgets and resources allocated for support groups, therapy and aids.

Another multibillion-pound industry has been built on the idea that to quit will require new investment — in hypnotherapy or acupuncture, in addiction apps or books by Allen Carr.

Subsequently, the general narrative around smoking suggests that quitting is inevitably a fail. Which suits both the nicotine industry and those who want to thwart it, too.

More than 5.2 trillion cigarettes were consumed globally annually in 2019, at a value of about US$705 billion. The global smoking cessation market, meanwhile, is expected to reach some US$64 billion by 2026.

Having been told that quitting will be awful, many smokers are inclined to give up the giving up. I had tried and failed before this latest effort. But what no one really told me was that stopping isn’t all that hard.

The final decision to unfriend my 10 to 20 daily cigarettes felt like flicking off a switch. Instead of reminding myself continually about the fag breaks I was missing — I simply shut down all thoughts of them instead. It has really been quite straightforward.

A person smoking a cigarette in public. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

And even in the face of triggers such as the pandemic, disruption and a family bereavement I can, hand on heart, say that I haven’t smoked a single one.

Sure, I’ve hung out around other smokers, and occasionally inhaled quite deeply in a smoky room. But with the rare exception of a perfect balmy summer evening, I rarely miss my former friends.

OUT OF FASHION

Smoking was falling out of fashion but COVID-19 has seen the uptake surge again.

Despite UK plans to be smoke-free by 2030, in August Cancer Research UK found the number of 18 to 34-year-olds who classed themselves as smokers had increased by a quarter: 652,000 more young adults in England now define themselves as smokers than did before the pandemic began.

New Zealand is facing an even greater challenge, as it aims to eliminate smoking in the coming decades. This month it announced plans for extraordinary legislation that will make it illegal for anyone who is now 14 years old or younger to buy cigarettes at any time throughout their lives.

Such prohibitive legislation, I would hazard, is unlikely to prompt young people to comply with the new laws. Surely making smoking so illicit will only burnish its cachet?

But I am not a young person. Nor am I in much danger of not being legally allowed to buy my nicotine. But I do know that I won’t.

Me and cigarettes are done — and while I once rated our relationship as being profound and more productive, I’m so much richer, pinker and, sadly, plumper now.

I write this not as some act of triumphalist self-congratulation but to demonstrate that giving up is not so hard to do.

“You literally say I’m addicted to cigarettes and take it from there”, says Alexa Chung, who quit last summer following an epic lockdown smoking binge.

“As soon as you understand you can’t have a single one,” she observes of her success as a non-smoker, “it’s a piece of piss.”

So don’t be fooled by the propaganda. There will be a wodge of pieces reinforcing the idea that stopping requires a lot of “work”. There will be books and recommendations. There will be new treatments for you to try.

But the challenge is by no means insurmountable, and those cessation aids are not what you really need. You just need to decide that the relationship is over, and throw your cigarettes in the bin.

Source: Financial Times/ep

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