"Smoke-Out" Gets in Your Eyes
I'm breathing easier. The American Cancer Society's "Great American Smoke-Out" is over. This annual anti-smoking day is supposed to provide us smokers with an added incentive to quit by sanctioning even more of the dirty looks and rude comments we nicotine addicts endure every day. But another year has passed, and I'm still smoking. Yet I'm not without hope. There's a woman named Jean Lampan in France who is 122 years old; she holds the world's record for oldest known living person. She celebrated her 121st birthday with chocolate cake and champagne with a few friends, but no cigarettes, because she gave up smoking three years before. At 118, she quit smoking. Why? Why not go for it at that point? What was her "moment of clarity"? Was it beginning to effect her handball game? Was she worried she'd never attract some hunky 90-year-old? What's the deal? Lampan should be a source of inspiration (as well as bewilderment) to all smokers. Many are still trying, unsuccessfully, to quit. But look at Jean: Even if she didn't start smoking until she was 18, she had been smoking for a century by the time she quit. The experts in breaking nicotine addiction say that, on the average, it takes four or five truly serious attempts to quit before one succeeds. If you're only up to attempt two or three, here's a personal guide to various methods and ratings for each. If you've tried to quit and failed, you're not alone. I'm at least one step ahead of (or behind) you. I've tried just about everything, and as solace -- or perhaps inspiration -- to the rest of you wannabe non-smokers, here's an account of my efforts. ACUPUNCTUREAfter the treatment itself (which loosened enough mucus from my lungs and sinuses to use up an entire box of tissue), I was instructed to take some Chinese herbs, eat lots of green vegetables and, if I should crave a cigarette, to smoke just a puff or two and put it out. This is like telling a heroin addict, "Just push the plunger a fraction of the way down, then yank the needle out and save the rest for later."Smoke-free for 6 hours.DETERRENT GUMThe theory here is "aversion therapy." Chewing a piece of gum before lighting up means that you have a powerfully rancid taste in your mouth to deal with, and a huge resentment toward the company for making your cigarettes taste bad. You either quit or realize that you're spending the equivalent of half a carton to make your smoking even more unpleasant, and try something else.Smoke-free for 12 hours.SELF-HYPNOSIS TAPEBefore going to sleep, you listen as a psychiatrist guides you through visualizations of cleansing your body. This is supposed to program your body to think of cigarettes as poison. Every time I play the tape, I fall asleep before it ends, so I'm not really sure what's actually on the latter portion. For all I know, it's telling me, "You will keep smoking but feel much greater guilt," as this is its only noticeable effect.Smoke-free for 12 hours (including 8 hours of sleep). "CIGARREST"Here you get a booklet, tape and gum. The beginning of the tape details some "scary" facts about cigarettes. When I hear that 25 percent of the nicotine reaches my brain in 7 seconds, my reaction is, "Only 25 percent? And it takes that long to reach my brain?" This is not a good sign. The booklet and tape contain some helpful hints, however, along the lines of behavior-modification (switching brands, changing times you smoke) before actually quitting. On the third day, you stop and start using tablets or gum containing lobelia sulfate. This substance supposedly tricks your body into thinking it has nicotine in its bloodstream. It works so well that you crave nicotine at least as much as you would if you were smoking. Smoke-free for three days."SMOKE-FREE"This comprehensive system is operated by Portland Adventist Hospital in Oregon and has much in common with other behavior-modification programs like Aspire. Borrowing concepts from 12-step groups, psychology and positive thinking, you get strong messages about the dangers of smoking, explore personal reasons for wanting to quit and see your "habit" as an addiction that needs to be treated as any other addiction would be. Former smokers are part of the support group. If you smoke after the program, you can repeat it within the first year free. Smoke-free for two days.NICOTINE PATCHThis method has been getting a lot of attention, now that these products are available without a prescription. With Nicotrol, the version I used, you have to send away for a "Personal Quit Guide" to get started. Demand for these was expected to be 300-500 a week, according to the customer service rep I spoke with. Instead, the requests have been coming in at around 3,000 a week. The patch itself is easy to use and quite effective. You know the feeling when you're about to get out of a restaurant or movie, and you want to smoke, but you know you can hang on for another half-hour? That's what every waking moment on the patch is like. The irony with Nicotrol, Nicorette and similar products is that it's illegal to sell them to anyone under 18. The rationale here, I guess, is, "Well, if you're under 18 you shouldn't be smoking in the first place." So, in other words, we're willing to make it illegal to advertise a legal product, for fear of getting teen-agers hooked, but we're going to make them criminals if they do smoke and want to quit. I guess this works the same way that keeping sex education away from teens makes it impossible for them to get pregnant.Smoke free for two weeks.All of the above methods go out of their way to include some disclaimer reminding you, in more polite terms, "If this doesn't work for you, it's because you're not really ready to quit, so call off the lawyers." I know from my own experience with breaking half-a-dozen other addictions that, as an addict, your mind is your own worst enemy: Spend as little time alone there as possible. The point is that if "Plan 1" doesn't do the trick, try another, then another. The odds are in our favor. Those who try to quit do eventually succeed. After I've tried "Plan 11," I'll let you know how I've done.