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?