Why good intentions to quit keep going up in smoke

Two-thirds of the estimated 10m Britons who smoke want to quit and many have tried several times. Sheena Hastings reports.

WE no longer live in a world blighted by the fog of cigarette smoke, but around 21 per cent of adults still haven’t kicked the habit. About a third of them apparently don’t want to, even though 100,000 people a year die from smoking-related causes.

The very real threat of ill-health or even death is still not enough to give some nicotine addicts the impetus; others regularly try to stop and fail. Take Kate, a successful 30-something who eats healthily and exercises regularly: “I’ve never had a problem giving up. I’ve done it a dozen times. I’ve tried patches, hypnotherapy, self-help books and pure willpower. Unfortunately the smugness of joining the ranks of the non-smokers lasts for only a couple of months and then the devil returns...”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Vishnee Sauntoo, of No Smoking Day (this year on March 9), says: “We know that many smokers would really like to stop, but find it hard. The day their smoke-free life begins never seems to arrive – it’s so easy to keep putting it off.”

The idea is that No Smoking Day is earmarked as the day to quit, and smokers should prepare themselves beforehand by getting all the information, support and medication, nicotine patches or gum they need.

Sauntoo says: “Often, there’s a desire to quit, but people don’t realise how incredibly difficult it’ll be. Their cravings kick in, they don’t know what to do, so they think ‘I’ll just have one cigarette’, and they’re on the slippery slope. If they were more prepared they’d be in a better state of mind.”

As well as setting a specific day to quit, people need to think about their reasons, such as it being for their health, to get fitter or to save money, and write these down. If one of the reasons is financial, for example, it may be worth calculating how much money quitting will save – a 20-a-day habit costs £2,300 a year for example. It’s also helpful to think about the triggers for wanting a cigarette, and initially try to avoid these situations.

Discussing your plan with the GP can help. They will sometimes prescribe medication such as Champix, which works by stimulating the nicotine receptors in the brain, relieving cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) in gums, lozenges or patches may also be prescribed. Support is important, both from family and friends, stop smoking forums like the one on the No Smoking Day website, or local NHS Stop Smoking services. Staff from such services see people trying to quit regularly to check on progress and give advice. Research shows that people who use the NHS services are four times more likely to successfully quit than those who don’t. A key point to remember, stresses Sauntoo, is not to give up on giving up. Most people will try to quit three or four times before they’re successful. Initially just cutting down the number of cigarettes you smoke may be a route to eventually giving up completely. Kate finds she can’t simply cut down. “I tell myself that maybe I can be a social smoker. I can’t. I either smoke or I don’t, and as yet I haven’t worked out how to do the latter.”

“It’s about your frame of mind and wanting to do it,” says Sauntoo. “Willpower has a lot to do with it, together with help and support. That’s why No Smoking Day works so well – it’s a time when millions of people are trying to quit on the same day, so there’s a camaraderie.”

Many people try to give up smoking under their own steam, or using internet advice or books. Love Not Smoking: Do Something Different, by psychology professors Karen Pine and Ben Fletcher, aims to help people through a six-week programme. Their advice includes disrupting the “regular habit web”, such as having a cigarette after a coffee or straight after a meal, and changing a former smoking space at home or work into a no smoking zone, removing one environmental trigger. They set tasks some of them seemingly unconnected with smoking, like turning off the TV for a day, and others obviously related to the habit, like not having a cigarette until after you’ve finished a task during which you would normally smoke. Pine says: “Most people dread quitting smoking because the habit has fooled them into thinking they enjoy it. They think of ‘giving up’ a pleasure, instead of stopping a bad habit and regaining a healthier lifestyle.

“Giving up quickly changes your life: after only 48 hours no nicotine is left in your body, and your sense of taste and smell are greatly improved; after 72 hours breathing is easier and energy increased. Give up smoking and smell the roses.”

www.wequit.co.uk; NHS Smoking helpline 0800 169 0169.