Mon. Jan 24th, 2022


In the spirit of any aspiring self-help guru / writer / wellness entrepreneur, I thought I would take this timely opportunity to lay out my Failsafe Guide to Quitting Cigarettes This Year. As the clock ticks after midnight on another year of hope, humility, and stumbling intentions, I offer you my modest strategy on how to stop it forever. Herewith my secret formula. The best way to quit smoking is to quit.

As a methodology, it is admittedly not particularly exciting. It does not come with thoughtful meditation exercises to start you on the stop “journey”. Nor does it offer a myriad of spicy spices to act as substitutes. I have no reading material, nicotine inhibitors or any other gadgets, like vapes, to help you. And yet, my method is absolutely infallible. Honestly, it can not be beaten. Quitting smoking is a doddle. I promise you it can be done. All it takes is the decision that you really want to quit.

It was three years since I wrote, somewhat boldly, about how I was off the fags for a week. It may have been a little early to be so confident about my non-smoking future, but the announcement at least forced me to make a real effort. After sucking on the Marlboro for more than two decades, I finally realized smoking is not chic. It was aging, smelly and expensive. On top of that, I could not bear the thought of stirring up my teenage daughter’s own potential habit by leaving unfinished packets of cigarettes in the house.

People like to produce hysteria about the act of quitting. Nicotine, they warn, is terribly addictive. We are constantly reminded of how often people fail. Large parts of the UK’s health service are on strike, with large budgets and resources allocated to support groups, therapy and resources. Another multi-billion-pound industry is built on the idea that quitting will require new investment – in hypnotherapy or acupuncture, in addiction applications or books by Allen Carr.

Next, the general narrative around smoking suggests that quitting is inevitably a failure. Which suits both the nicotine industry and those who want to stop it. More than 5.2 tons of cigarettes were consumed annually worldwide in 2019, at a value of approximately $ 705 billion. The global smoking cessation market, meanwhile, is expected to reach about $ 64 billion by 2026.

After being told that quitting would be terrible, many smokers tend to give up. I tried and failed before this latest attempt. But what no one really told me is that stopping is not that difficult.

The final decision to disconnect my 10 to 20 daily cigarettes felt like pushing a switch. Instead of constantly reminding myself of the flicker pauses I missed – I simply shut down all thoughts of it. It was really pretty simple. And even in the face of triggers like the pandemic, disruption and a family loss, I can, with my hand on my heart, say that I have not smoked a single one yet. Sure, I hung out with other smokers, and occasionally inhaled quite deeply into a smoky room. But with the rare exception of a perfectly balmy summer evening, I rarely miss my former friends.

Smoking was getting out of fashion, but Covid-19 saw the recording again. Despite UK plans to be smoke-free by 2030, Cancer Research UK found in August that the number of 18- to 34-year-olds who classified themselves as smokers increased by a quarter: 652,000 more young adults in England now define themselves as smokers than did before the pandemic began.

New Zealand faces an even greater challenge as it aims to eliminate smoking in the coming decades. It announced plans this month for extraordinary legislation that would make it illegal for anyone now 14 years old or younger to buy cigarettes at any time during their lifetime.

Such prohibited legislation, I would argue, would probably encourage young people to comply with the new laws. Making smoking so illegal will surely only burn his jaw?

But I’m not a young person. I also do not run great risk of not being legally allowed to buy my nicotine. But I know I will not. Me and cigarettes are done – and while I once considered our relationship to be deeper and more productive, I’m so much richer, pinker and, unfortunately, plumper.

I am not writing this as some act of triumphalistic self-congratulation, but to demonstrate that giving up is not that hard to do. “You literally say I’m addicted to cigarettes and take it from there,” says Alexa Chung, who quit last summer after an epic lock-up binge. “Once you understand, you can not have one,” she remarks of her success as a non-smoker, “it’s a piece of piss.”

So do not be fooled by propaganda. This weekend, a bunch of pieces will reinforce the idea that stopping requires a lot of “work”. There will be books and recommendations. There will be new treatments you can try. But the challenge is by no means insurmountable, and those strike tools are not what you really need. You just have to decide that the relationship is over, and throw your cigarettes in the trash.

Email You at jo.ellison@ft.com

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