Monday, 13 December 2010

Stopping tobacco

'Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times.'
Mark Twain

About five weeks ago I stopped smoking tobacco. It was quite easy, involving no real suffering. I know, Mark Twain said 'giving up' was easy, but 'giving up' is doomed to fail, because you're depriving yourself of a source of pleasure. In my view, one of the purposes of being alive is to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh. Generally, if something is pleasurable, I see no reason to deny it to myself on a dubious promise that I may live a little longer. So, my giving-up efforts with tobacco were short-lived, and marked by the misery of the internal civil war brought on by self-denial.

Of course, like Austin Spare, you can make magical use of the stress of giving up. Spare would cast a spell, then place his cigarettes on an 'altar', denying himself that pleasure until he got his result. So, if you're going to put yourself through the pain of self-denial, at least do it in the service of some really worthwhile goal!

This time I stopped, rather than gave up. I used the method of Allen Carr (no, not the toothy TV comic), in his book 'How to Stop Smoking the Easy Way'. ( In 40 years of smoking and 13 of attempting to stop, it's the only method I've found that makes sense to me. I didn't manage to sustain the internal civil war of willpower, for the reasons outlined above. Methods based on fear are also non-starters - you only have to stand outside a hospital for a short while to notice that not only visitors but also staff are unmoved enough by the imminence of grisly death to be smoking their lungs out between witnessing terminal sickness. Warnings simply don't work.

Carr's method starts where all the others leave off. He doesn't require you to give up anything. In stead, you stop doing something to yourself that isn't even pleasurable. If you can convince yourself you don't enjoy smoking, you're home and dry.

The first time, I managed it for four and a half years. Then, one night in New York City, it occurred to me that a cigar would go splendidly with my glass of Knob Creek bourbon. My gracious host indicated a temperature-controlled humidor, and before I had time to regret it, I had a perfectly-kept Havana in my hand. Three months later, I was still feeling deprived, and the habit crept back.

It took me three years to get back on top of the situation and stop again. Had I known how easy it would be, I wouldn't have waited so long.

The craving has died down now. The key for me was realising how little I enjoyed it and how short the addiction cycle is: there is virtually no physical addiction - as Carr points out, smokers abstain for 8, 9 or 10 hours every night, between the last fag and the first of the day. The cycle is: smoke, nicotine leaves body, desire resumes, is satisfied briefly, and so on. The entire physiology of nicotine 'addiction' is a cycle of less than an hour in length.

This was really apparent this last time: there really was no physical distress, even on the first day. In the weeks since I stopped, I've had a few moments of craving, especially after a couple of glasses of wine, but it's been easy to believe it when I tell myself I would get nothing but a very short-lived buzz of nausea, numbness and swooping hypoglycaemia, followed by a vague desire for some more.

What keeps the whole habit afloat is what we tell ourselves about what we're feeling in the time between smokes. There is no physiology standing in the way of quitting, which is why substitution with patches or gum or e-cigs is a poor strategy, merely prolonging the agony. And yet substitution is the current medical fashion, and what the NHS bases all advice for would-be quitters on. Medics and policy-makers, arise and read Allen Carr!!!


  1. Oh, yes. You'd be amazed, working in a pharmacy, to see how many people struggle with patches, etc, in exactly the same way as if they quit cold-turkey. They convince themselves they need the nicotine, and then they do. Personally I've always recommended a good hypnotherapist, which is sort of the hand-holding version of the aversion self-therapy you suggest.

  2. Champix worked for me. My father's a psychiatrist (which meant I got it free!) and I told him it's a miracle drug.

    He went to immediately disagree with me -he doesn't like such fruity terms as 'miracle'- stopped for a moment, considered it and said "yes".

    But mazeltopf none the less.

  3. Well done. Nick O'Teen is not an addiction for me but a minor demon. The longer I go without (6 years is my record) the more I believe it's ok to have a smoke, which seems inevitably to lead to the habit returning. I intend to stop again, and will remember how easy it was for that long spell. But if I have any doubts, I'll look up Alan Carr. Thanks for the recommendation.

  4. Your timing is impeccable! I quit exactly one week ago today. I admit to having used the gum at an average of 4 mg a day. But only during times of high stress and after those few glasses of wine you mentioned! ;) I admit, I love nicotine, its a great drug. It's the ill affects of the smoke part that bothers me. Goddess knows I get enough of that from incense! I haven't read Carr, but I will soon. Thanks for the tip. Anyhow, thanks for write up on the topic, it came at a good time for me.
    The first time I seriously tried to quit under magickal pretense I went at it like a demon exorcism, solely. This time it has much more potent implications tied into my ability to heal as well as the enhancement of general power related to activation of Will.
    So, here's to sacrifice for whatever reason and to whatever end! Salute!

  5. Congrats! Carr isn't doing anything new, but he's found a way to deliver an important method well. He's using reframing techniques from Hypnosis and NLP. I use the same methods with my clients to have them stop smoking. Hell, I used them on myself!

    Brilliant choice to share your choice of method and your choice to stop. Many people in the occult smoke. Hopefully your story will influence others to stop smoking as well.

  6. I *ahem* know of someone who ate an 8th of mushrooms, yes the magical kind. After only 5 years of smoking, up to two packs of reds a day, never touched another cigarette. It's been 14 years.

  7. I *ahem* know of someone who ate an 8th of mushrooms, yes the magical kind. After only 5 years of smoking, up to two packs of reds a day, never touched another cigarette. It's been 14 years.

  8. I've known a couple of people say that mushrooms had given them a push in the direction of quitting.