Cutting Down to Stop

Cutting down to stop
I have been prompted to write this because of a recent posting by a friend in facebook who has already started to cut down on her smoking “habit” in the belief that when New Year arrives, she will find it easier to stop. Logically, cutting down should make it easier, but it is probably the most painful way to try to quit and almost guaranteed to fail. If smoking was a habit, then cutting down might help. The problem is that smoking is not a habit.

Quite a bold statement when we know that most medical professionals refer to smoking as a habit. But don’t we also refer to someone having a drug habit or heroin habit when we mean drug and heroin addiction? I feel another article coming on proving that smoking is not a habit but, for now, let’s just accept that smoking is not habit.

We believe that we got into the habit of smoking and sense that we got into the habit of smoking more and more. When it comes to breaking a habit, most of us would say that is just a matter of giving in to the impulse less and less until we no longer feel compelled to do it.

The “cutting down” approaches can sound really simple. All you have to do is smoke one less every day until eventually you find that you don’t smoke and hey presto you are a non smoker! If you usually smoke 30 a day then surely it can’t be difficult to smoke 29 on the first day of the attempt. Next day, just smoke 28 and the next day 27 and so on. At the end of the first week you would be down to 23 and by day 30, you could be smoking your last cigarette. It sounds easy except that in my thirteen years of helping smokers to quit, everywhere from the Shetland Islands to Paris and Dublin Amsterdam I have never heard of anyone who was successful in stopping by cutting down. Hands up if you know of one person that stopped smoking using the cut down method and found it easy!

If you smoke, you can prove to yourself how painful it is, by cutting down just for today. Nothing serious, just have one cigarette every three hours, then after that you can go back to your usual intake. It is true that even heavy smokers can go long periods without a cigarette when on a long haul flight or even a short hospital stay, and isn’t it also true that the cigarettes you enjoy most are after a long period of abstinence? Have you noticed that as you get closer to when you can smoke that cigarette it becomes the most precious thing on earth? Have you ever been in a meeting that went on longer than planned and all you could think of was “when will they shut up so I can get a smoke”? Have you ever been stuck on a plane that was delayed in take off or landing and the next cigarette took on a life of its own? Have you ever been so agitated with any other habit when you could not give in to it?

If you spend each day counting your cigarettes and waiting for the next occasion when you can light up, they become more precious, not less precious. This is why it didn’t work when you have tried cutting down in the past and you probably ended up smoking more than you did before your quit attempt. The worst thing about this method is that you go through such misery as you cut down that it will be a long time before you are willing to try again.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT, patches, gum, lozenges) is about pandering to your dependence while restricting the occasions when you smoke in the hope of minimising the “habit” until you eventually stop altogether. If you are a smoker, I bet that just reading this article makes you want to light up! Can you imagine going all day waiting for the next one and only being able to stick a nicotine patch on your arm instead of drawing a cigarette from the pack, placing the tip between your expectant lips, pulling out you favourite lighter, hearing it click and that flame that sparks up your favourite brand? Feeling the cigarette between your fingers as you draw the warm smoke deep into your lungs, and then blowing it high into the air. How can a patch or sucking on a plastic tube satisfy? It is no wonder NRT has a success rate of only six per cent at best. It has to be more than just the nicotine! Smokers who have tried to stop using the patch will often sheepishly admit to smoking with the patch on. There has to be another article - Nicotine patches, a waste of money – another time!

There is absolutely no doubt that cutting down makes it harder to stop, not easier. If we smoke when we want a cigarette, we often find ourselves smoking without even being aware of it. When we try to cut down, every cigarette is precious and our attempt is usually short lived. The truth is that it actually requires more willpower than stopping.

What is the most unusual way that you know to stop smoking? What worked for you?

Hi Tony, thanks for your comments. I'm delighted to hear that you are no longer a smoker so I'm sure the following comments will not dent your resolve. We agree on the power of Hollywood and tobacco companies combined with peer pressure were a huge reason for millions of smokers starting (me included). I though I had read every book on smoking but not read this one yet. I can go along with the idea of a "smoking trance" for some we smoke - those are the ones we usually call the habit cigarettes - but what about the others like the one we mope for during the long meal, meeting or church service or first in the morning and puff with relish when we are eventually allowed to imbibe? Not to mention the panic smokers feel when they are running out of cigarettes.

There is one method that works for most people and that is removing the need or desire for cigarettes by removing the illusion of benefit or enjoyment. I would need more room here to go into more detail on why these are illusions but happy to give an example or two if you wish.Thanks again for your input. Joe

I agree with you. My theory is that the habit of smoking has it's roots in the way tobacco companies promoted their product in the 60s, 70s and 80s. A ban on advertising the the smoking ban in pubs etc has gone a long way to reduce this habit.The idea of lighting up after a night of passion only promoted this idea of the macho image of smoking. I guess Hollywood has a lot to answer too.

I was a 60 a day man but I had a sudden revelation that the lighting of the cigarette was a habit. Often I could not remember lighting up. Get into the car, light up. Making a telephone call, light up and so on. So I stopped
Then I read a book by Trevor Silvestor and he suggested that when we smoke, we are in a smoking trace, when we watch a film we are in film watching-trance, when we drive we are in a driving trance. I say this because how often do we miss a turning in the road a have no recollection of the journey. My son watches a film on the tv. I call him but he is so involved in the film he does not hear me. He's in TV trance

To deal with this habit, I think that it is the smoking trance state that has to be changed. Little steps like putting off that first cigarette until a later time is s good start. And trying to become aware of each time you smoke. Then set a date to change your trance habit into something else and stop. Personally, I do not believe that smoking is addictive. It is a difficult subject as there are many reasons why people smoke. I smoked because my mates smoked. It was the late 70s and everyone that I new smoked.

It is an interesting subject but no one method can be used to change this habit. Each person has a different reason for smoking. Good luck with your post. I will follow it with interest

Good Luck John, hope it goes well...I will be joining you soon !!!

Hi John, good for you. If you get a wobble you have my private line. Any time.


Day 1 then and no I'm not counting:)

Thanks Joe....will try not to panic!!! Speak soon...

Hi Maria, The feeling of panic is only natural. You have been smoking for a long time and cigarettes have become part of your routine, your life, your identity and more so it's no wonder you are anxious. As you probably know I have set up to communicate privately through another member so more to follow. Please try not to fret and begin to believe that it will be easy despite previous experiences. Speak again soon, Joe

Hi Valerie. First congratulations on stopping smoking. powerful motivation there. I know you managed to stop after several attempts which is the case for the majority of smokers but there is no reason why someone should not be able to stop on the first attempt. The only reason they fail is nothing to do with willpower, timing or cutting down it is because they still believe that they got some benefit or pleasure from smoking. You could be forgiven for saying that it is the addiction that forces them back but in truth the physical addiction is very mild (nicotine leaves your body in the first 24 hours). If you have no reason to light up then it is extremely easy not to smoke.

Maybe you are suggesting that previous attempts build the willpower muscle but in my experience as a heavy smoker and therapist it has the opposite effect. The feeling of lacking willpower is why smokers often "hate" themselves and feel depressed and useless when they fail . Sadly, they will usually postpone the next attempt fearing the effect it will have on them if the fail again. Fear of failure and fear of smoking - what a horrible trap. No wonder people who stop feel so empowered.

You stopped in spite of having made the previous attempts. Cutting down makes the next cigarette more precious and not less precious. Stopping smoking has nothing to do with willpower if you go about doing it in the right way.

Well done Valerie, am trying to cut down before stopping completely.....but keep having panics about not smoking although I want to...what am I like !!!! All advise and support is greatly appreciated...

I stopped smoking 18 months ago, with nothing but a strong motivation: to please my children (two of which were old enough to smoke and didn't). I stopped from one day to the next, on my birthday, and haven't had any relapse, but many years previously I had cut down from 15 a day to 5 a day — and I think this helped a lot. So while I believe that going from 20 fags on Monday to 19 on Tuesday to 18 on Wednesday etc doesn't work, I'm adamant that cutting down over the years paves the way for stopping completely. Also this was not my first time at stopping smoking. My advice to smokers who want to stop: don't hate yourself if you relapse! Keep on trying to stop because one day, it will work! It's like learning to ride a bicycle...

Hi Sheila....yep sounds good I am on FB ...I find that easier to speak to people...quite excited now, will you have any NRT or anything??

Great Maria. Maybe we can keep in touch with each other here or on Facebook? Offer a bit of support, and Joe might volunteer to help us both! :-)

Thanks Joe, will probably call on you and the 30th sounds as good as any date to me...ok come on the 30th !!!!

Volunteer Joe! No one asked if I can play the piano

Great idea John. I would be happy to volunteer to facilitate here, on line or otherwise. No strings though. Are you going to be first volunteer??

Hi Maria, Great to know that you are going to go for it. Sounds like I am anti smoking, I'm not. I was the worst kind of smoker, long term,34 years finished on 30/40 a day and never thought I could do it.

Good luck with the book. As you can imagine I know the method back to front so if I can help via email, chat or whatever please feel you can call any time. Joe

Just a thought, if all the want to be quitters picked 30th Jan as the date, (Sheilas date) it could create a good support network for all.

Hi Joe. Thanks for the reply, and yes, SFN is a great "melting pot". Been here almost a year now. Thanks for the offer of help, on which I could well take you up! I'm gearing myself up to doing it within the next few weeks. I want to be off them. I want to be back where I was in August 2005, free of the nicotine bully! My mum's second anniversary is 30th January, so I thought that is the date I will aim for. Will spend the next couple of weeks lining up chores and jobs for those moments when you really want a fag. And the "smurting" was a bit of fun. I know at least 2 couples back in Dublin who got together out in the smoking area!

Hope you will come and see us at the next meet up in Montpellier, or indeed come down to Lagrasse if ever time permits. Thanks a million for starting this thread. And best of luck to everyone who is planning on quitting.