I have dedicated a lot of time to giving up smoking. I have attempted pretty much everything: cold turkey, nicotine gum and patches, ‘reduced risk’ cigarettes, taking deep breaths until I have collapsed… you name it, I’ve tried it.
So when a copy of Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking landed on my desk — a present, I am informed, from a concerned sister — I thought, with zero confidence, that I may as well give it a whirl.
Its approach is old-fashioned compared to all the other solutions the marvels of modern medicine have churned out. The method is quite simple: read the book, and continue to smoke (hallelujah) while reading the book. Why? Carr believes that telling smokers to cease immediately will only increase anxiety and drive them back to the cigarettes. His Easy Way instead unpicks common misperceptions associated with smoking, allowing the reader to consider the case before coming to his or her own conclusions.
Miraculously, it seems to have worked.
I don’t want to be sanctimonious. I love nothing more than the smell of a cigarette (Allen Carr discourages this — more on that later). I enthusiastically encourage smoking in my home and have an intense dislike for the pious pontifications rammed down our blackened throats from the Powers That Be, denouncing the evils of our so-called filthy habit.
Carr, a former accountant who got through over 100 cigarettes a day for over three decades, explains to the reader that one does not actually gain anything from smoking. Smoking simply satiates the addiction’s desire to feed itself. The addiction to nicotine is personified as a monster with a voice, which sounds like complete fantastical madness, but halfway through reading the book the voice starts to become recognisable — in one’s own itch for delicious Camel Blue.
Carr explains that the comfort the smoker experiences when smoking is just how non-smokers feel all the time. Giving up smoking is therefore described as a liberation from slavery rather than a hopeless slog that will make us irritable, fat and generally unpleasant.
The book explains that actual nicotine withdrawal only lasts three days, so from then on any pangs of desire for a cigarette are habitual rather than physical. Carr encourages the reader to launch himself into social occasions, drinking and partying. ‘Go out and enjoy yourself straight away. You do not need cigarettes even while you are still addicted to nicotine. Go to a party, and rejoice in the fact that you do not have to smoke.’ Similarly, Carr addresses the illusion that giving up smoking is linked to weight gain: ‘The weight myth is due to using substitutes during the withdrawal period [such as snacks]. In fact, they do not make it easier to stop. They make it harder.’ Carr therefore systematically rejects all of the myths and illusions that sustain the culture of smoking.
And it’s true. Stopping smoking has not been nearly as traumatic as I feared. Carr’s instruction is that I should tell myself, and you, that I am a non-smoker. I can’t quite buy into this. And I don’t pity all smokers, as Carr advises. But for now, three weeks in, the Easy Way appears to be working. The question of for how long remains to be seen.