There is something repellant about the idea of Christopher Hitchens, of all people, having to waste his time in the company of “stop smoking” companies and the rest of the self-improvement industry. Waste your time on his account here and here.
I spent a year of my life researching the smoking problem, and I was a smoker when I started. When I mean “research”, incidentally, I mean that I read every peer-reviewed article I could lay hands on, and interviewed something in the order of one thousand smokers and ex-smokers. I’ve worked with smokers for almost a decade now.
So I can say right away now why Hitchens came away still a smoker.
Because he was right, and his “helpers” were wrong. Cigarette smoking went around the world in forty years, not because it reduces its users to the status of sad addicts, but because the psychological advantages to smoking are real and considerable. But for the unfortunate (and only partial, and only relative) threat to health cigarettes pose, smokers, living as they do in the same vale of tears as the rest of us, have the advantage over non-smokers.
The hardest smokers to help are the ones who’ve lost sight of what they were getting out of smoking – the ones who insist on berating themselves as weak fools.
What I learned from all those interviews was that smoking cessation tends to happen when stopping becomes of greater psychological value than smoking, and that it is very much a personal matter. The reason techniques that I disagree with often work – especially the Allen Carr route, which has a genuine track record – is, I suspect, because they succeed in tapping into this.
On rare occasions, I even meet someone who succeeded in stopping permanently whilst using Nicotine Replacement Therapy. (The idea here, of course, is that nicotine is “addictive” and that the way to proceed is to slowly wean the user off it. It’s rare to come across a proper study – try a BMJ search and see what I mean – which doesn’t point up a failure rate in the 85-90% band over one year, more in seven. But then, I think the whole “addiction” idea is due a major rethink. There are only so many such studies you can read without realizing that it is only assumed that we know what we mean by “addiction,” that there are quite a few ill-thought-through definitions of it, and how badly in need we are of a working definition of the term that is agreed across the board AND evidence-based. But that’s a big subject, and this is scarcely the place.)