Tag Archives: Stoptober

The attempt and not the deed, Confounds us

The 2017 version of Stoptober, as they call it, finished on 28th October. The idea was that if smokers could be encouraged and supported not to smoke for twenty-eight days, they would be ‘five times more likely to quit for good’.

Those who signed up received daily messages of the following kind:

If you’re using stop smoking aids, including e-cigarettes, remember to keep using them.

Count up how much money you’ve saved so far, since quitting smoking

Write down the times when you’ve beaten a craving, or turned down a cigarette. You did it then, so you can do it again, and again.

Keep reminding yourself of all the reasons why you decided to stop smoking.

Having trouble sleeping? Try introducing some activity into your day. A kick about with the kids, a Zumba class, or a brisk walk could really help.

As I said in an earlier post, it’s not my intention to knock the campaign – any way that helps smokers to quit is to be welcomed.

However, is such a campaign the best way to go about it? If this approach were directed to, say, weight reduction in overweight people, it would make some sense. It’s not fully understood why people become overweight and slimming is difficult. Even so, daily encouragement to stick to a diet could be helpful.

With smoking, on the other hand, as far as I recall, the word ‘addiction’ isn’t mentioned and the approach of the campaign implies that people smoke for lack of motivation in stopping.

They claim that

Stoptober has driven over 1 million quit attempts to date and is the biggest mass quit attempt in the country. It is based on research that shows that if you can stop smoking for 28-days, you are five times more likely to stay smokefree for good.

What’s the good of a quit ‘attempt’ and what does it mean anyway? A little thought shows that it’s meaningless. Someone either smokes or they don’t. The idea of a quit attempt – as I have said before but it’s worth repeating – colludes with smokers that as long as they’re ‘trying to stop’ everything is fine. But it’s worse than that. The concept of trying to stop implies it’s going to be difficult – you have keep trying, as in the story of Bruce and the spider. Such an idea is reinforced by the advice to use a ‘stop smoking aid’ (it’s too difficult to do on your own) and that you will need support to overcome ‘cravings’ (scary).

And what’s all this about being five times more likely to stay smokefree (sic) for good if you can stop smoking for 28-days? Five times more likely than what? What research they are referring to? I wrote and asked them; I am still waiting for a reply.

This doubtless well-intentioned campaign does nothing to help smokers understand why it seems so difficult to quit. Further, it’s discouraging, because it reinforces the notion that a tough time lies ahead and that smokers need to use willpower to refrain from smoking for twenty-eight days. And then what’s supposed to happen? You will have to continue to use willpower for the rest of your life?

It’s even more unfortunate that this year e-cigarettes are recommended as a way of stopping smoking. As I have also pointed out before, this is misleading or at best a half-truth. E-cigarettes provide an alternative way of taking nicotine into your body that, it is hoped, will be safer than smoking. But people who take this route to smoking cessation continue to be addicted to nicotine. It’s defeatist and almost insulting to smokers to suggest they use e-cigarettes. At least with other stop smoking ‘aids’, such as nicotine patches and chewing gum, there’s a limit to the time one’s expected to continue with them – though not a few use them long-term.

On the other hand, if you go about it the right way you can stop smoking easily without any so-called aids and even willpower is not required.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

(The title is from Macbeth.)

Inhale Poison to Stop Smoking: Official

Since I’m on the mailing list, I’ve once again started receiving notices of the forthcoming 2017 version of the so-called Stoptober anti-smoking effort put out by Public Health England (part of the UK Department of Health).

It’s not my intention to mock this campaign. Smoking is a serious problem and anything that helps people to quit is to be welcomed. However, as in previous years, the approach used lays itself open to parody.

The first message encourages me to ‘keep motivated’ to stop smoking. (I am of course a non-smoker and have signed up purely for professional purposes.)

Let’s have a look at this phrase, because it contains within it one of the many paradoxes of the current official attempts to deal with the smoking problem.

Encouragement to keep motivated suggests that smokers are in a similar position to middle-aged couch potatoes who should get off their backsides. One certainly needs motivation to overcome one’s natural resistance to exercise and start on the road to fitness.

Smokers, however, are not in this situation at all. Is the reason they smoke because they lack the motivation to quit? Is it believed that if only smokers could increase their motivation to a certain degree, this would tip the balance so they would actually quit? Most smokers have plenty of motivation already – they don’t want to get lung cancer after all – but they seem to be unable to act on it. Why is this? Insufficiency of motivation is not the problem.

Stoptober seems to be trying to persuade smokers they ought to stop, as of course they should. But is this the best way to go about it?

The sub-text is that if only smokers realised the risks they run by continuing to smoke, and if only they could appreciate the benefits of quitting, then they might be sufficiently motivated to make a quit attempt. This approach is based on logic, common sense and the need to use willpower to refrain from the apparently irresistible urge that smokers have to keep smoking. Then, with the increased motivation to be provided by the twenty-eight daily inspirational  sound-bites (or whatever they will turn out to be) of this year’s Stoptober campaign, the participants – if they can only hold out for twenty-eight days – will find themselves in the fortunate position, like the chance to be entered into a lottery, of being five times more likely to quit! This curious statement is from the Stoptober 2016 version, of which my critique can be found at: http://nicotinemonkey.com/?p=842

The next message asks, ‘Have you got a Quit Buddy?’ This means ‘Someone you can call on when you need help’. There we go again: stopping smoking is too difficult to do on your own, so you need someone to call on when (not if) you need help. How encouraging! And what is that someone supposed to do? Say ‘There, there, don’t worry, the horrible cravings and urges will soon pass! Stay strong! You can do it! Remember, if you can survive for twenty-eight days, you’ll be five times more likely to quit for good!’

Today’s message is as follows:

Have you thought about using a stop smoking aid? There are lots of aids to help you quit, including prescription tables (sic), NRT (such as patches, gum, lozenges) and even e-cigarettes. Talk to your GP, pharmacist, local stop smoking service or vape shop to find out more.

Why should a smoker need an ‘aid’ to quit? Again, the implication is that it’s too difficult to do on your own. However, the suggested aids for 2017 are not just the same old nicotine products and prescription drugs, but now we even have e-cigarettes! One way to find out about these is to pop along to your local vape shop.

This is where I must part company with Stoptober. It speaks of the ineffectiveness of the previous Stoptober campaigns (they started in 2012) that they have to throw in a new way of keeping your nicotine addiction going. And vape shop owners must be rubbing their hands in anticipation of juicy profits at this now official endorsement of their products. I think it’s highly irresponsible.

As I have said before, proffering e-cigarettes as a stop-smoking aid is misleading. For many smokers who take up vaping, it merely amounts a new way of continuing their nicotine addiction, maybe indefinitely. Whether it’s really less harmful than smoking only time will tell.  See http://nicotinemonkey.com/?p=1406

Text © Gabriel Symonds

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

Smoking Cessation on the NHS

There’s a stop smoking promotion by NHS England called ‘Stoptober’, presumably because this scheme was launched in the month of October.

Stoptober is the conventional approach – discouraging. They seem to recognize this fact and try to make a joke of it:

Welcome to Day 1 of Stoptober. Now, it’s fair to say that this is the toughest day. Why? Because people keep coming up to you telling you it’s the toughest day.

Day 2. You may also feel a bit dizzy… carbon monoxide has disappeared from your body and your lungs will start to clear of (sic) mucus and other toxins. (I didn’t know mucus was a toxin.)

Day 3. GRRRRRRRRR!!!! (sic)… If you are feeling a bit emotional or moody, don’t worry that’s normal and it will get easier. Tell your friends and family that you might be a little snappy for a couple of days

Inevitably, there’s dumbed down vulgarity and innuendo:

Day 4. Just think, on your next night out, you can get ejected from a nightclub, spill a kebab down your top, get told to p*** off by an attractive member of the opposite sex and – if you haven’t smoked – it’s still a triumph!

Day 5…it’s not because you honk like Fireman Sam’s jockstrap…

Day 12. Let’s talk about sex! Stopping smoking increases blood flow and circulation (what’s the difference?) all over your body – which increases arousal for both men and women. So keep it up! If you know what we mean.

Back to Day 3. A link to Facebook reveals an appeal from a desperate-sounding woman:

wish u had more info on here as to the different things that stopping smoking can make u feel, ie , spaced out lack of concentration, which isn’t good when ur driving, just nodding off , lack of sleep at night, constant urge for loo, xtra peeing, achy eatling more , bloating , wind, . it would help more people if these subjects were covered on this official site , its not always about the craving, I want to understand whats going on with my body and why its affected in this way, it is that what keeps my incentive up, but would love more info

She’s on the right lines (even if her literacy is wobbly) but nobody does explain it to her. These unpleasant feelings are accepted as if they’re a normal and inevitable part of stopping smoking and the best that can be done is to ‘support’ quitters through this difficult time by motivational sound bites. I sympathize with this woman and the many others who use Facebook to air their problems.

Day 21. Discouragement is thrown at you again:

Stopping smoking is tough but…The fact that you’ve made it this far means you’ve got fantastic willpower. 

In spite of stopping smoking being tough (they told you that on Day 1) you’ve succeeded so far through willpower! So that’s the secret of stopping smoking – for three weeks anyway – willpower! But what if your willpower falters?

Fortunately, however, all this is nonsense. There’s no need to struggle like this. It all depends on the attitude one brings to quitting. If you’ve been told to expect you’ll go through hell, that’s likely what will happen. On the other hand, if you’re helped to understand why you really smoke in the first place and what happens when you stop poisoning yourself with nicotine and approach quitting with the right attitude, in practice you are likely to experience very little difficulty.

How to stop smoking without tears is explained in my book..

© Gabriel Symonds