True or False? Most smokers need help to quit

“I only eat about 30 a day now”

I am every smoker’s worst nightmare. As an ex-smoker myself  – it was the 60s during my art college days, what can I say? –  I now have little tolerance for smokers who whine about how tough it is to quit. Back when I finally decided to kick the stinky habit, before marrying David (my anti-smoking fiancé), we were still 20 years away from modern quit-smoking help. There were no nicotine patches or pills or gum or any program to help us. It was just white-knuckling cold turkey and hard candy all the way – what scientists call unaided smoking cessation.

But Australiaresearch published this spring in the Public Library of Science Medicine now suggests that unaided cessation methods (cold turkey or gradually reducing before quitting) is actually the most successful way to quit after all, despite Big Pharma’s expensive campaigns to convince us why we need to buy their products if we really want to quit.

In fact, as with problem drinking, gambling, and narcotics use, population studies show consistently that up to three-quarters of smokers who permanently stop smoking do so without any form of assistance

According to study authors Dr. Simon Chapman and Dr. Ross MacKenzie of the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health:

“Paradoxically, the tobacco control community treats this information as if it was somehow irresponsible or subversive and ignores the potential policy implications of studying self-quitters. Unassisted cessation is seldom emphasised in advice to smokers. We know of no campaigns that highlight the fact that most ex-smokers quit unaided even though hundreds of millions have done just that.”

Study authors also found that research literature is preoccupied with the difficulty of stopping. That’s why all smokers need to buy Big Pharma’s smoking cessation aids, right?

Ironically, the Australian study reminds us that, in the rare literature that has bothered to even ask, many ex-smokers recall stopping as less traumatic than anticipated. For example, a large 1980s study of ex-smokers (before the advent of all this pharmacotherapy help) found that:

  • 53% of ex-smokers said that quitting was “not at all difficult”
  • 27% said it was “fairly difficult”
  • only 20% found it “very difficult”

Research on cessation is dominated by ever-finely tuned accounts of how smokers trying to quit can be encouraged to do anything but go it alone —exactly the opposite of how a very large majority of ex-smokers have succeeded.

Finally, here’s a summary of the Australian research findings:

  • Two-thirds to three-quarters of ex-smokers stop unaided. In contrast, the increasing medicalisation of smoking cessation implies that quitting must be pharmacologically or professionally mediated.
  • Most published papers on this subject are studies or reviews of assisted cessation; very little research has been done on the success of self-quitting.
  • Many assisted cessation studies, but few if any unassisted cessation studies, are funded by the very pharmaceutical companies who manufacture smoking cessation products.
  • Health authorities should emphasise the positive message that the most successful method used by most ex-smokers is unassisted cessation.

Read the Australian study (published 2/09/10 in the Public Library of Science Medicine) called: The Global Research Neglect of Unassisted Smoking Cessation: Causes and Consequences 

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8 thoughts on “True or False? Most smokers need help to quit

  1. Pingback: anti smoking

  2. I smoked two packs a day for over twenty years. One day a long time ago, I had coughed one smokers cough too many. I put the trash can in the middle of the room, and tossed in all my cigarettes and smoking paraphernalia. I never looked back. Was it difficult? Yes, at times, but it was much easier to do it on my terms than purchase some smoking cessation aid that really doesn’t do anything anyway. It took about two years until I did not have a craving for a cigarette at key times, like after meals, on the phone, etc, but I never smoked again after the garbage can incident and never will. Looking back, quitting was one of the smartest things I ever did and I’m glad I did it on my own.

    • I’m with you Dr Ruth – like you I too just one day up and quit my 2+ pack a day habit just like that. I was ready. That’s the secret (not pills, patches, gum) — you do have to be finally ready once and for all to start living a new life from now on. It’s been 8+ years now for me!!!

  3. Here’s another reason to quit without using ‘medical intervention’. Here in Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) says that since 2008, 15 suicides have been linked to the drug Champix.”

    My own experience as a cold-turkey ex-smoker and practising Acupuncturist is that people are more likely to remain non-smokers after medically unassisted quitting, because doing it without drugs enables and demands of us that we change how we think about ourselves and cigarettes.

    Successful quitters change many aspects of our lives and our environments in a whole-of-life-restructuring that the bandaid approach of gum-and-patch-and-drug can never provide.

  4. I too quit cold turkey a few years ago. Just set a QUIT DATE on my calendar and that was that. Best thing I could have ever done for myself and my family. Cool post. Thanks!

  5. I agree. We have been convinced for years through powerful drug company advertising that we NEED their drugs to quit smoking (also, to lose weight, relax, go to sleep at night, etc). What we do need is exactly what others have shared here too, a final no-excuses conviction that it’s really time to quit. Some of us need to practise this conviction a few times before it really sticks…. 😉

  6. While I completely concur with regard to actually quitting smoking, Nicorette has been a very effective product for me with regard to harm reduction. I have smoked for 40 years, and for the last 10 years used Nicorette gum as a means to reduce the harmful effects of tobacco smoke on my lungs. By reducing the actual number of cigarettes consumed to 5 to 8 per day, my body could tolerate smoking. Ultimately, I used Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking method, and I am very glad I no longer smoke.

    • Hello James – I liked Carr’s two “easy” steps: 1. start thinking of yourself as a non-smoker, and 2. don’t mope about quitting. Congratulations to you on being a non-smoker now! 🙂

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