Chewing the wall and climbing the carpet

long-way-babyIn the best tradition of the orthodox approach to smoking cessation, this year’s vintage of the quaintly named ‘Stoptober’ scheme, produced by NHS England, has just finished.

At least it’s an improvement on the previous two versions. Last year’s seemed intended to encourage smokers to quit through humour. Is it a laughing matter?

The idea of Stoptober is that if you can refrain from smoking for twenty-eight days you’re ‘five times more likely to stop for good.’ Five times more likely than what? I suppose it means compared to stopping for a shorter period, say, two weeks, but how likely would you be to stop for good if you managed to achieve that? And why should it be a game of chance anyway? Assuming you manage to hold out for the arbitrary twenty-eight days, what then? How are you going to cope with not smoking for the rest of your life?

This year’s Stoptober theme seems designed to encourage you to quit smoking by bolstering your will-power. You’re sent cheerful daily messages by email or an app, as before, and these are reinforced by short motivational videos, such as of a gay actor (‘Aah, there you are, darlings!’) and a footballer. The introductory video shows a lot of earnest pleasant people including children wishing you ‘Good luck!’ Why should stopping smoking be a matter of luck, for goodness’ sake? Then you can ‘Watch Stuart’s story’ or ‘Watch Haley’s story’ – these are people who look very pleased with themselves as they relate the struggles they went through but they succeeded in the end and they tell you how wonderful it is to be a non-smoker.

There’s also Sayed’s story. He started aged thirteen or fourteen and smoked for about forty-five years. The video contains an interesting Freudian slip. He saw a smoking cessation counsellor, a young lady who ‘found the best way to carry on smoking’ (sic). She gave him tablets and then e-cigarettes and eventually she asked him to give a quit date and since that date he stopped smoking completely.

I’m glad to hear Sayed has stopped, and hope that he hasn’t done himself any irreparable harm during his long smoking career. But I wonder if he just had the counselling whether he could have stopped without using tablets or nicotine?

Other motivational messages are along these lines:

Feeling a bit moody? This is normal, but it will be worth it. Ride out these feelings – it’ll get better soon. You can do it. Treat yourself to a new album or have a box-set binge to help you get through it.

When the cravings strike, message our new Facebook Messenger bot to get instant support, just when you need it.

 The first week without cigarettes can be the toughest. Have a think about how you got through it and remember it for the next time you have a craving.

Some of the comments on Facebook of people following Stoptober are revealing:

Sinus congestion and headaches…Feel jittery today and anxiety…Any idea how long the feelings of anxiety nervousness tiredness and depressed and stressed last!…Oh that was a close one, nearly just very nearly convinced myself to have a fag…Arrgh! any suggestions for coping with the patch irritation…like going out for a fag at certain times its bloody hard… Day 18 for me I feel I’ve got this but it’s bloody hard at times

And there’s this – it almost brings tears to your eyes:

Sorry but I am still finding it incredibly hard 🙁 after 13 days, I am fighting the battle not to have ‘just one’….I dont ‘feel’ any better ( except purse wise) I am as grumpy as hell…I cant get a straight answer to a very simple question abouit diabetes and vaps, why arn’t I feeling as chirpy as you lot???…….I feel as tho I’ve put myself through this torture without any benefits that I can see ….sorry to be so negative……. but thats just how I feel [sad emoji]

Stoptober is all about cravings, riding them out and fighting them, the toughest first week, etc. So if this is what you’re told you’ll likely feel, what’s going to happen?

Smokers are well aware of the dangers of smoking and the benefits of quitting, so it’s hardly necessary to mention these lists as if they are trying to persuade smokers to give up. But for those who have decided they wish to quit and find it hard to do, what does Stoptober offer? Warnings of dire withdrawal symptoms and the plugging of nicotine ‘replacement’ and prescription drugs to fight against the ‘cravings’!

Surely there must be an easier way?

There is. It’s called The Symonds Method.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

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