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Giving up smoking

Giving up smoking with others and online support

It can be encouraging to give up smoking with the support of other people. Sometimes people asked friends and colleagues how they had managed to quit, or tried to give up at the same time as their partner or friend.
 
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Blodwen’s friend was giving up around the same time, and that made it easier for her.[TEXT ONLY]

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Age at interview: 55
Sex: Female
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What I noticed initially was how much more money I had in my purse at the end of the week, whereas you know, maybe it would have gone on cigarettes. I’d think oh I’ve still got that twenty pounds. It’s in my purse. So of course, you know, you think oh yes, you know, so that can go towards a holiday, that can go towards some new clothes or, or whatever isn’t it? So yes, that was the real incentive for me. And I think as well, which has made it easier that you know, like my friend [name], she was a heavy smoker and because she’s, we’ve almost done it together, that you know, it’s been so much easier, because you know, we spend a lot of time together and if she was smoking I think I would, oh go on I’ll have one. You know, it would be so much easier.

So, yeah, it’s about… it’s also about having support isn’t it? You know. Not that I’ve thought about it like that. But yeah, if she was still smoking, I think maybe I could have lapsed or relapsed really into you know, going, yes….
Mariam asked others about the techniques and strategies they had used to give up smoking. Both Sue and Lisa were given the Allen Carr book by friends and found it helped them give up.

Different types of stop smoking support groups exist. The evidence suggests that group programmes are more effective for helping people stop smoking than handing out self-help materials without face-to-face help. In fact, the success rate is approximately doubled in people who go to a support group or get individual counselling.
 
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Judith went to a smoking cessation group and found others there understood what she was going through. [TEXT ONLY]

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
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I think it was there when I needed it.  It was there when I wanted to engage with it, as opposed to being in my face. When I was ready… There’s a saying that someone told me, and it was, if... when you’re ready to become the pupil, the teacher will appear. And that was true. So the smoking cessation class allowed me to do that, to go to them. It was non-judgemental, that was a big thing.  It also had the flexibility of various groups at various locations, as well as that it also you were able to do a one to one session as well as, or a group session.

I think the one-to-one session’s great. But I think ultimately you do need to eventually go into the group session for it to be completely a rounded experience and a helpful experience. Everybody is there with the same goal, but with different journeys. You can always get somebody who has felt one of your symptoms, and potentially you can always help someone else out because of one of your experiences. It’s, I still say to this day, it’s the only place that really understands, because if you are giving up smoking, they are too. If you have given up smoking there’s somebody there that has. And they understand how difficult it has been with the journey that’s led to that. On the outside you have, generally, two main types of people. There’s the non smokers who will never understand what it’s like to have given up smoking. To have achieved that. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done in life. And people, one friend in particular said, “That’s not true, you know, and you managed to do a psychology course when you weren’t very well.” Or whatever. But that just doesn’t even come close to giving up smoking.
 

Angela valued the one-to-one support she received at her work; she did attend a smoking cessation group years ago.

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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Years ago when I went to a smoking cessation thing and it was a group thing, it was for six or eight weeks and that was it. And what’s all that about you know? You’re still needing help after that six, eight weeks and like but with [name of smoking cessation woman] its, even if you’ve failed you’re still going to see her, and she doesn’t condemn you, she doesn’t say, “Oh well, eight weeks is up now. You either stop or you don’t.” Because that’s what you felt like with that before. She’s still there, yes, and I never want to stop seeing her [laughs]. I don’t. But, so people who are struggling, are still getting that bit of, you know, like I say if it was six to eight weeks. I remember me and my friend went to one and it were down at some fitness club and it were for eight weeks.

How long ago was that?

About four years ago, four or five years ago.

And did you just sort of see it and drop in or…?

I think it were through doctor, because they have groups at doctors don’t they but if you can’t make them, then they will choose another one which were nearer or you know, night time or things, and  we went there. And we were great with group and then it finished. Eight weeks. That’s not a lot is it? It’s not a lot time, because if you’re going to go on them Champix, Champix, it takes you, you’ve got to get form and go to your doctors, so that’s a week, a week and a half and then you’re two weeks on your things, that’s another, and then so you’re just starting and it’s done, bye, you’re on your own now.

So was it just the amount of time? Or was it anything else about that group that wasn’t so good?

I think the amount of time yes, and [exhales] I did like the group thing at first, but then so say, it’s only half an hour, who the… you’ve got so many things to say, and the other people, so it’s like getting, I like this one-to-one, I like [name of smoking cessation woman]. I like the one-to-one. And work gives us fifteen minutes, and there’s not a lot of places that, you know, would do that, and they give us fifteen minutes, and sometimes that’s not enough time for your one person, you know, so if you’re in a group and everybody’s wanting fifteen minutes or more there just isn’t enough time so you get, you know, pushed to one, one side.
 

Professor Aveyard describes how many people find going to a stopping smoking group helpful in motivating them to stop smoking.

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Well a lot of people are slightly nervous about going to a group, it sounds of a bit weird, you know, ‘Hi my name’s Jim, and I’m a smoker’. You know, it’s a bit like Alcoholics Anonymous or something. They don’t really work quite the same way as Alcoholics Anonymous. And actually the people I’ve seen, because we’ve like persuaded to go to a group treatment, in the end have really, really enjoyed it. It’s no that commonly used in the NHS nowadays, because when you offer people a choice, do you want to go to a group or do you want to go to a clinic, people think, oh well, you know, one to one, one to one must be better. 

In fact there’s no evidence that it is. And perhaps it may be slightly less effective than the group. Probably because one of the things that groups do, is create a feeling of being in a team. So if it’s you and me in a group and you know, you’re trying not to smoke, not just for yourself, but also because you’d feel like you were letting me down and the other group members down by smoking and it’s that sort of, if you like, that pressure against smoking that we feel when we’re engaged in this behavioural support process. There’s probably part of the ingredients that just sometimes make that difference between giving in to temptation, and having a cigarette or managing to resist the temptation type of cigarettes. 

So groups definitely can work, individual support can work, the main thing is to get some kind of support whichever that is, but don’t be afraid of groups would be my sort of personal advice because people do enjoy them.
Some people went to Allen Carr’s Stop Smoking Clinics where during a five-hour seminar people are invited to smoke in the breaks throughout and then quit smoking at the end.
 

Mariam went to an Allen Carr clinic and thought that the woman running it wasn’t paying much attention. She stopped for two months but then started again.

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
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Did you go to the clinic?

Yes, I went to clinic and I stopped for two months. I think. Two months.

And how many times did you go, and what was it like?

It was all right, but I think you must never leave there with doubt. So I’ve left with some doubts. I think you have to trust. He is very good. You know, he’s great. He helped millions of people, but then I think it depends with whoever you’re talking to they’re, they were sitting in a group and the woman was explaining you feel like, she’s not really paying much attention. She was rushing off. She’d got other things to do. You feel like she really doesn’t care. She’s here for money.  It’s not going to work. You’ll have all this kind of doubt. But I, I realise that moment I have something to do. Like for example, I was starting a new job, I had interviews. I had to stop for two months. So I was just using that going there and stop for two months. You see you go there and you pick up tips and you just, they give you the hypnosis and you come out, so you don’t smoke, and I didn’t. It does help for so many people, you know, the millions of people stopped. But I think you have to understand everything they’re saying, you know, have to ask questions, but may be English is not my language, maybe I didn’t understand something or I missed something. Well may be they really did plant seeds and then eventually I did it myself.a
 

Many years ago, Anna went to one of the first Allen Carr clinics and, after attending, she managed to give up for some time.

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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And then my Mum’s godson, who was, who run a bike shop in Wimbledon who was quite a heavy smoker, really heavy smoker, and smoked really strong cigarettes, he gave up smoking. And I thought right if he can give up smoking. Because by this stage, I sort of think that it would probably be quite nice not to smoke, but I really knew that I couldn’t just stop. And I thought if he can give up smoking then, you know, it must be possible, because I thought he would die smoking sixty fags a day.

And he told me that he went to see this guy somewhere in, I think it was somewhere in Wimbledon who turned out to be Allen Carr the big smoking guru, but by this, he was just operating in his own home and he ran these courses, and so I think there were eight of us. And I remember I was in Brighton at the time. I got on the train and went to see this guy and had to take a cab and you know, he did this, I think it was a sort of four hour session with eight people present and there comes that moment when he sort of tells you, “This is going to be…” Throughout you’re allowed to smoke, which seemed good to me, and then he said, “Okay this is your last fag.” And everyone, you have to like the last cigarette and I thought this is just not going to work. Because I’d been told that it was hypnosis and I just thought, well, you know, I don’t feel like he’s hypnotised me at all. He’s just talked to me for a few hours.

And I remember having the last fag and then you leave your cigarettes with him. He had this huge pile of fags there. And I got, got back to the station and had that moment where you put your hand in your pocket and then the cigarettes and that slight moment of panic, and then I thought, well okay, you know.  And I remember getting on the train and deliberating sitting in the smoking compartment to check whether, how bad it was going to feel, or… And it felt all right. And I remember. I mean I must have been 23, 24 at the time, and I gave up smoking for quite a bit after that.

And I think it was, it was the fact that he’d, he’d sort of, he does this thing where he basically gets you to realise that actually you only feel good smoking because you’re withdrawing from nicotine and that felt like. I don’t know for some reason that, somehow, I can’t really explain what happened, but I seem to sort of remember that that was something that I would hold onto.
If people were taking varenicline (Champix) which is prescribed in the NHS they were often advised to use a form of behavioural support in addition and this was sometimes a support group.
 

Raf was told that he couldn’t get the prescription he wanted unless he attended a support group. He found his GP’s surgery had a long waiting list, but he had quicker support via a NHS Stop Smoking phone line.

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Male
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Well, it were frustrating because of the fact that, originally it was just in my GP practice, because they run their own stop smoking class, and every time in the past that I’d  enquired about it, there was always a, between four and six month waiting list. They were that booked up in advance, and that would just totally put me off the idea of stopping smoking. And then eventually this time round, even in the past, once I went to I phoned up the NHS stop smoking line, and went to see somebody, and they gave me a letter for these same tablets. I took it to my GP’s practice but they didn’t prescribe them to me, because I was on antidepressants at the time, and apparently they will not prescribe them if you’re on that kind of medication. And then it just basically put me off the idea of even thinking about stopping again for quite some time.

So what happened this time, when you went to the group, what was that like?

Well this time round I went, I had, I was at an appointment at my GP’s, and I mentioned it to my GP again and he told me the same thing. When I inquired at the reception desk they told me there was a seven month waiting list and it was a lady behind the reception counter that actually gave me the NHS stop smoking number. So I rung that number up and they give me an appointment for three days later. I went down, it was only a ten minute chat initially, and the person that I saw there, he gave me a letter to give to my GP’s. I went and gave that to, in at the reception at the GP’s practice. The lady behind the reception counter, she told me to come back the following day and pick the prescription up. Which I went, or no sorry, I didn’t go up, I phoned them to ask if the prescription was ready, and they told me that the doctors wanted to speak to me before they actually prescribed it for me. So, another week and a half went by. I got an appointment, went to the doctors’ and they just basically wanted to explain the side effects to the tablets to me. And I was happy with that, and then the doctor prescribed the tablets for me, and I started taking them that same day then.

And was the sort of going to the smoking support, was that sort of just a way of getting the tablets or did they come up with anything useful at the time?

Well I’ll be honest with you, for me it was just a way of actually getting the tablets, because the doctor will not prescribe them without a letter from the stop smoking clinic. And everything else that really they used to say to me, I didn’t really pay much attention to. I just wanted to try the tablets to, if you like, try and prove the tablets wrong. But I can’t. They’ve worked brilliantly.
As part of his job working for the Expert Patients programme, John attended some training to help others quit smoking he started to think seriously about quitting too. A few facts in the slides he was to present to the group stuck in his mind, such as that a cigarette contains over 600 substances, including formaldehyde.

(Also see ‘Being a non-smoker’, ‘Help from pharmacists, GP’s and Nicotine Replacement Therapies’ and ‘Complementary approaches to quitting’).

Not a group person?

Not everyone wants to attend group meetings, even if they are offered a place at one. Reasons include being too busy, preferring to go it alone or wanting one-to-one help.
 

Cassie didn’t go to a support group - she associated them with the type of group alcoholics go to.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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I wouldn’t like to go to a support group, because you know, I associated them with like  alcoholics and you know, kind of smoking, no, I don’t really see it as the same. They say alcoholism is a disease, but I don’t think smoking is. I think smoking is something you can get over if you really want to, because I knew people do. So I wouldn’t, plus I wouldn’t, it just doesn’t feel right going t a support group for smoking. It doesn’t. I think smoking is not taken, I don’t know taken seriously is the word, but you know, it’s not out there like it’s a big thing. You know, the government want you to quit smoking, but it’s not in your face, so then for a support group to be set up, I think it’s a bit much, you know, and whether that’s right or wrong is just because it’s not in my face and I don’t really see it as a big problem. But I’m sure, I’m sure there is a big, big problem because I’m sure there’s a lot of smokers in the country and a lot of, they are costing the NHS a lot.
 

A nurse offered Tom a place at a group, but he preferred to give up smoking without support and felt he had no time.

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So I was seeing the nurse for blood pressure checks and things, and then obviously one of the questions they asked me was ‘do you smoke and how much do you smoke?’ And she told me about the kind of giving up smoking groups that they arranged I guess. It must have been an NHS thing.  Which yeah, I was made aware of it, but I didn’t follow it up.

Why didn’t you follow it up?

Why? I don’t, well I don’t know. Maybe for the same reason that I didn’t ever try the patches or the gum or anything else. I kind of quite pigheadedly thought, ‘no, I can do this by myself.’  So I guess I knew that the help was there if I wanted it. There were adverts on TV about giving up smoking helpline and all that sort of stuff, but I never really, I didn’t follow it up, because I think by that stage, I think I was at the point then, where I was kind of having my kind of slightly false starty, giving up thing that went on for a while, before I finally cracked it.

I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s pig-headedness or laziness or what. I don’t know, I just sort of, ‘no, it’s probably less hassle if I do it by myself.’ I didn’t want to commit my time to going and sitting with strangers and talking about smoking.

What was it about like the idea of going out somewhere and speaking to people about something you were perhaps struggling with?

I don’t think I had a problem with that. I think it was, it probably was more laziness, like I don’t know where I’m going to fit this in with my life, you know, I’m too busy for that stuff. I don’t want to do that. I don’t think I would have had a problem with sitting with strangers and talking about it, any more than I’ve got a problem with talking about it to you now. And none of its kind of difficult or personal or something that I struggle with on that level.
 

Keith was told about a Stop Smoking group at his GP surgery, but didn’t go because he didn’t want to admit to himself that he couldn’t give up smoking without support.

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Age at interview: 59
Sex: Male
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And there was every chance for me to join the non smoking clinic at the practice and apparently it’s very effective. But I didn’t.

Thank you. I mean support groups aren’t for everybody. What would be your feelings about going to a non smoking group or a clinic?

I think probably it wouldn’t suit me, I think probably it’s the probably the shame thing really, of going to a group to show that I haven’t got the willpower to pack up smoking in my own right and I think that was the main factor why I didn’t take it up. It would have been sensible to do it. But to admit that you haven’t got the willpower to give up smoking or I suppose I didn’t really want to as I said earlier. So that was the main factor for not going.

Would it be shame in a group or just sort of shame even admitting it, even one to one?

Admitting to myself, I think, really, rather than to anyone else. I suppose once you’ve made the step and you’ve gone through to be, going into a group you’ve actually taken up the offer as it were, then it wouldn’t matter if it was a group or an individual. The thing is admitting to yourself that you’re overcoming this, this block.
 

Chris wasn’t offered a place at a support group but was quite happy to stop smoking on her own.

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
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Were you offered any support groups, sort of giving up smoking groups or anything like that?

No. No. I was happy with the way I was doing it.

I was going to ask would that have been your thing anyway?

No I don’t think it would have. I don’t think so.

How come was it…?

I don’t know. I think… I suppose really because it means that I’ve got to go somewhere and I’m getting to know where, I don’t particularly want to go anywhere. It’s a bind. It’s you know.

He’s, it’s just, I’m quite happy sat at home. I’m quite happy in my own little world, you know, I know I can’t do a lot, walking and going out and, yes, but I plod along, potter around in the house and I keep it clean, you know, that’s the main thing, and sometimes I think oh God it’s getting me down, but I get it done.
Sarah had been to group therapy before to help her eating disorder and didn’t like it, so decided to seek help in another form. Tam found that the groups didn’t fit with her shift pattern at the factory, whilst long waiting lists put others off. Munir knew that support was available from his GP practice and from the local mosque, but because he worked long hours he couldn’t take advantage of it. Caroline didn’t want to go as she couldn’t fit attendance into her lunch hour.

Online information and support.

Cassie once started a blog about her attempts to give up smoking, but stopped as she didn’t want ‘everyone to see her fail’. Various types of smoking cessation support programmes are available online. Laura and Abdul said it hadn’t occurred to them to look up any websites about smoking, and others said that they had avoided searching for information online about the risks of smoking. But some people had looked online for practical help in giving up. Khan and Angela, for example, both looked online before seeking face-to-face support.
 

Peter announced on Facebook that he was quitting and has used an app on his phone called ‘Since I Quit’ to keep track of his progress.

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Male
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But you said that you put things out on Facebook, so it was more like the dissemination of information rather than the accumulation…?

Ah it’s just letting people know really. And it’s kind of like just announcing to your social circle, your social circles that that this is what, this is what you’re doing, it’s official and you mean it. You know, so it makes it real by telling others, because otherwise it’s just an idea in your head [laughs].

And then obviously from personal experience that you’re got an app about giving up smoking?

Yes. It helps to, it helps to well I don’t need to explain how it works, so it’s called “Since I Quit”, and I probably found this in the first week of quitting and basically you plot in your date that you stopped and then it tells you how many weeks days, hours, minutes and seconds since you stopped smoking and it’s counting sort of continuously. So now it’s 16 weeks, 4 days, 15 hours, 56 mins and 48 seconds and it tells you how much money you’ve saved or more alarmingly how many cigarettes you haven’t smoked?

So what are those figures?

Well right now it’s 1,399 cigarettes. By not smoking that number I have saved £175. I’ve probably underestimated the price perhaps, I’m not entirely sure, but it was rolls ups.
 
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Angela’s partner and friend sent for a stop smoking calendar and stress ball from a website, but she didn’t think it would help her.

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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Is there anything that you’ve tried giving up smoking looking on the internet?

Well there were that thing weren’t there, that, you could log on and they’d send you a chart and what were that I can’t remember now. Were it National Health?

The Quitline or …?

Something like that, and they’d send you a chart and a DVD or something, and a stress ball. What’s all that about, that’s rubbish? [Laughs]. It is though. It made you stick a chart up and when you’re working and things like that you can’t be bothered, you can’t be doing with things like that.

So did you send off for it at all?

I didn’t, but my partner at the time, he did. And it looks great. I don’t think he ever put it up, he messed about with the stress ball but not for a stress, just…. Oh and my friend [name], she did. She put her chart up. They only follow it for a bit. You know, people want quick easy things. I know it’s hard, but that’s what they want. Quick easy things. They don’t want three months down the line to be putting a sticker on Day 44. I can never get into it.

Like an advent calendar you know, there’s no chocolates at end. Well personally I don’t, that don’t work for me. I don’t know how many people it’s helped. It’s good that they’re trying to do all these things, but it’s just spending money on things that aren’t going to work for the majority of people aren’t they? Like people up in an office and they’re thinking oh this will so work, but they haven’t researched it or owt like that. And they’re spending the money for, well that’s my theory, and I think so many of people did DVDs and things.
 

Caroline joined an online forum that she liked, but she started smoking again in secret. Later she used an online support programme called ‘Active Quit’ that helped her quit smoking for good.

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Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
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The forum that I used, I say that, that was really good, but I found that, I don’t know not talking to real people in some ways was nice. But you never even knew whether they really were not smoking or whether they were like me and a slight secret smoker and even though they weren’t smoking, they were still having the odd cigarette. I did make a couple of friends on there which is really nice. And I still I keep in touch with them now.

So what forum was it?

It was No Smoking Day Forum. They’re a charity and they have like a forum on there. Which is really good. I mean there’s hints and tips on there, and sort of, you can kind of look ahead to people that have been quit for longer than you and see what to expect. But then when you have a cigarette, you think right do I admit it on there, or do I just pretend that I’ve still not smoked for six months or whatever, and eventually I just stopped using it.

And then as I say I joined up with this Active Stop Programme. And you have a week preparing with them and all through that week they don’t tell you that smoking is bad for you, because they say you already know it’s bad for you, but you don’t want to admit it’s bad for you, but they just send you little tips like if you didn’t smoke for a week you could buy such and such, just kind of gives you an idea of how much money you’re saving and when your quit day comes and mine was the 7th February, they, you’ve already previous to that, kind of logged all the cigarette that you smoke, so I guess they know what time you smoke your first cigarette of the day, and they send you, obviously it’s automated, but it seems personal, because it has your name on it. They send you a text message around that time, just telling you how well you’re doing, this, that and the other and there was like an interactive programme on the internet that you do each day and then you have to fill in a diary and it would tell you to run up the stairs and then run up them again after you’d not smoked for a week and see what the difference is.

And even though you could easily cheat every day they would text me and say, ‘Have you smoked today?’ You could easily say no when you hadn’t. I suddenly thought cheating is just sort cheating me. It doesn’t really matter what other people think. So one time when I did have what they call a blip I did say, yes, but other than that I was truthful all the time, and since then there’s been no looking back. So very proud of myself [laughs].

​Last reviewed August 2018.
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