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Giving up smoking

Going it alone

Some people had successfully stopped smoking without using any medical or complementary approaches. They just stopped - some called it going ‘cold turkey’. Some didn’t even tell their friends and family that they were giving up.
 

Miles stopped smoking over twenty years ago before NRT patches or gum were widely used. He had the odd cigarette in the pub, and then an occasional cigar before eventually quitting for good.

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Age at interview: 48
Sex: Male
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So made a conscious to give up smoking. From memory I didn’t find it tremendously difficult. I think it was, you know, I really, I went cold turkey. There was none of these patches or anything in those days. It was just sort of give up, and, and, I think I fell off the wagon a few times. There was a few times, where, you know, you’d be down the pub and someone would give you a cigarette. But I can’t actually remember ever buying them. Just sort of oh I’ll have one and that’ll be it. But certainly the twenty day sort of habit at the very most sort of stopped at about three or four a week. And then it sort of developed very, very sort of rarer and rarer.

And then I moved on, I thought, I’ll make myself better, I won’t actually have cigarettes. I’ll just have the odd cigar. So I sort of had the occasional, so I remember there was a sort of, sort of you know, your mates around whatever, and it was always a cigar rather than a sort of cigarette. And then I think I was getting a bit of a bad time from [wife’s name] at that time, so eventually I even gave up the cigars, and like I say that was not too difficult because I don’t think cigars were, I think a lot of the nicotine dependence, obviously gone by that stage. So that’s the sort of summary of the addiction.
A change in routine often helps, as when people were on holiday somewhere else or when they didn’t have to go to work. Andy, and others, felt that the cravings would be partly due to nicotine withdrawal and partly due to the way smoking was built into their usual routine.
 

Tom had seen people fail using several different ‘stop smoking’ aids. He decided that determination was all that mattered.

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I suppose I’d seen people kind of, I’d seen people try and give up in various ways and fail. I’d seen friends that I knew try gum and patches and the Allen Carr book [laughs]. I had one mate in particular, he must have read that book about four or five times, and every time he’s read it, he gives up smoking for about maybe a couple of months, and then starts again and thinks, ‘oh I really must read that book again.’ That’s sort of not the point of it really is it? I think I thought, if I, if I do this without any help then I’ll make it stick. I don’t know. In the same way that, if I, if I declare I’m going to the gym a lot and losing weight and eating sensibly and all that stuff, and I thought, right if I do this in a kind of, the proper way of not like a fad diety kind of thing, and doing all the right things with diet and exercise and stuff, then that’s the right way to do it, then I’ll do like that. Maybe I thought just kind of, you know, if I haven’t got the willpower to do it without that stuff, then, or using that stuff, I wouldn’t have the willpower anyway. So I, yeah, I don’t know, it’s a combination of pig-headedness and laziness and probably a bit of wanting to do it all myself.

But I don’t know, if that hadn’t have worked, would I have tried it then? Maybe I would have done. I think I kind of hadn’t, I hadn’t seen it be successful for other people, necessarily. I mean there’s a guy at work even now, he’s got, he’s got some, I think he’s got some gum in his drawer and he’s got one of those like plastic fake cigarettes, yeah. But he still goes out for a fag, and yeah, that’s clearly not working for you is it. But it’s, you know, a lot of people talk about, you know, you can’t give up until you want to give up. And maybe for some people having that little extra bit of help from the patches or the gum, once they’ve decided they want to. But for me it was like really clear cut, and once I really did click that no I want to stop now, then that was the point at which the willpower was enough. But I don’t think anything would have been enough before that point. It would have been chewing all the gum and sticking all the patches on in the world, but I would have still probably gone back to cigarettes.
 

Andy went ‘cold turkey’ and took three days off work. He thought fighting the routine as well as his desire for cigarettes would be too much.

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Age at interview: 31
Sex: Male
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I just gave up. I just went cold turkey. People, you know, people go through the whole shebang, they have the patches, the gum, they do, they do everything. And I suppose that’s to deaden the cravings. To make the cravings less. You’re still got to have will power, you’re still got to fight the cravings. But the cravings will be less. You know, less difficult, I guess.

But for me, the way I saw it, is having nicotine patches and continuing nicotine therapy, while it might make those cravings much easier to deal with, it means you’re going to have the cravings for a longer period of time. I think. I mean I don’t, I don’t know this for a fact. This is just how I read, how I read the situation. Because I remain I remember reading that, and again I don’t know how true this is, I remember reading that effectively the nicotine leaves your body in the space of 72 hours or something like that. And once that’s happened, it’s basically just a psychological thing. It’s just a… because the physical cravings are no longer, no longer there, because you’ve processed all the nicotine out of your body. And from that point onwards it’s just the habit, it’s the routine, which is just as hard to shake. And again, I don’t know if that’s fully true, that’s just something I read and that’s something that I stuck by when I decided to give up. Because I figured that if I decided to go on the whole process of nicotine replacement therapy then I would make it, it would make it last longer. It would make the situation just go on longer, and longer and longer and I wanted a, I wanted it to be over as quickly as humanly possible. I wanted to just get rid of the just get it out of my system and get it fundamentally dealt with as quickly as I could.

And so for me what I did, I had three days off work and I think I just had them off work for whatever reason. I think it was just using up some holiday, using up some leave. And I just decided to myself, right, here’s a perfect opportunity. I’m not at work. I worked in a job where you could have a smoke on the job while you, while you’re going round and it was very easy, if you were having a stressful day, have a smoke, and it was, it was, a good way of, of passing the day. But I, I decided three days off work, basically I’m just not going to anybody. I’m going to lock myself into the house. Not go out. Not do anything and just ride out all the horrible cravings. All the nastiness, all the, the bad tempers and, and, and all of that. Ride as much of that out as I possibly could at home, get all that out my system and then three days later, theoretically speaking, if what I’ve read is true, I should be able to then go out and it would be a habit thing, and then I can deal with the two things separately.

Because I don’t think if I’d gone out at work doing routine things, shaking the routine of smoking, fighting the routine as well as fighting the cravings, I think would have been too difficult. It would have been taking on too much at the same I think. So I kind of did it one at a time. And that worked. And I think the first three days were just the worst, they’re absolute hell, and you know, I never want to put anybody giving up smoking, but I think most people have tried it and they know how difficult it is. But if you can get through those three days, and it is around three days. If you can get through that all of a sudden, it falls off a cliff and becomes so much easier. I mean it doesn’t become easy, of course. I’m not going to suggest it is easy, because it’s not. But it becomes an awful, awful lot easier once you’ve got kind of past that, you know, that get all the physical cravings out the way with. And it becomes easier.
Some people like Peter found that it helped to tell others that they were trying to quit, so making it a public decision, others like Abdul wanted to give up ‘quietly’ in private.
 

Abdul didn’t tell his friends he was quitting, but one of his friends thought he couldn’t give up and that motivated him. After a couple of slips he managed to stop smoking altogether.

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Male
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And did you try anything like Nicorette or anything like that?

I did buy a couple of boxes, but in the end I thought, you know, I, I didn’t, in the end in this attempt I’m making since September to give up smoking, I’ve not used a single bit of Nicorette gum or patch. I’ve done it, I’ve just got on with it. I’ve just got on with it. I wonder what I’ve done to replace it, you know, may be drunk a lot, more coffee, I put on a bit of weight. I have put on, I put on about half a stone, or three quarters of a stone. So that’s kind of had an impact on my badminton as well. Because I’m sluggish trying to get round the court. Because you can taste your food and you’re happy to eat more, and you’re replacing smoking with like, whatever. But yes, so, yes, I didn’t use any of that. I didn’t still feel I need to.

Did you use anything at all?

But yes, so, yes, I didn’t use any of that. No, I didn’t feel I needed to.

Did you use anything at all? Any sort of other techniques or substitutes or …?

Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing whatsoever. In the end when it’s come to giving up, I’ve not gone, other than that breath, lung test rather, I’ve not had anything, you know, I’ve not got any advice, additional advice or support, I’ve not used anything Nicorette patches or anything. I’ve just got on with it. I’ve not talked about it to people much. They know, you know, I’m in the situation. I was playing badminton with a friend. He’s a very good friend of mine actually. And he gave up a few years ago, but he smokes as a social smoker, and at the weekend when he’s a drinker. And, he said about four, not six weeks ago. “So have you, have you smoked?” I said, “Oh I had a couple of the other day. You know, but this was out drinking and I didn’t inhale either because …” “Oh you’ll never give up.” I mean he, there are a lot of smokers who can’t give up say that. You know, we know why they do that, because they feel they’re getting left behind. Other people have gone and achieved this thing and it kind of probably highlights to them, the situation that they are in and how they’re not able to do anything. You know, they’re disempowered effectively to do anything about it. And he goes on, “You’ll never give up, you know, whatever.” And that was the second spur for me, that the was the second spur. I thought right okay. It kind of annoyed me that he didn’t have faith. I didn’t. You know, I wasn’t angry but I thought right, he thinks that so I said no more, not even trying to non-inhale you know, and then we were out about two weeks ago, and I was, like, you know, really in a state, you know, out drinking and what have you. And there was him and another friend, all university mates, you know, from Keele. We got together. And in that whole evening, I didn’t have a single cigarette or even ask or look as if I wanted. And I didn’t even think about it. Then the next, you know, two days later at badminton, you know, my mate says, “You know what I couldn’t believe it. You were absolutely plastered and you didn’t even ask or weren’t interested in having a cigarette, a rollie.” So you know, but you have to have little moment stages along the way, where, you know, that kind of thing happens, where’s there somebody tests you, and it all kind of raises a certain issue. We’re all different anyway. And that was a nice little thing that he put me in a situation where I thought right okay, I’ve got to remind myself of what I’m trying to do here and get back on you know.
 

Gareth has many times tried to quit but without making a big issue of it. He’ll refuse a cigarette if offered but not announce that he is trying to quit.

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Age at interview: 58
Sex: Male
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I’ll just try and do it. Because sometimes you know, you can’t be thinking about this all the time. I’ve got other things I need to be thinking about and getting on with. So, I, I think there’ll be a part of. There’ll be some thought about not smoking every day. And, it’s only enough to re-enforce my decision really. Yes. And certainly with the people I know who are still smoking, I will still see them. The difficulty there is that both of them, they’re partners and they both hand roll cigarettes [laughs].

So you wouldn’t ever say to them, you know, I’ve given up smoking…?

No, no, if I’ve stopped I don’t tell them anything. I wouldn’t tell them that I’ve stopped. I wouldn’t tell them. I know I’ve stopped before in their company, before meeting them socially and they probably think I’m still smoking and then they may offer me a roll up, well you know, they roll up and then they offer me one. I say, “No thank you.” I just say, “No thanks.” And carry on talking about whatever we’re talking about. I don’t make an issue of the fact that I’ve stopped. That’s how I, that’s how I deal with stopping smoking really. Because I don’t want to be, you know, I mean I can talk about it now, but then once that’s over you know, it’s not something really I would want to talk with anybody relating. You know, if somebody does ask, “Are you smoking now Gareth?” I’ve said, “No.” That’s it.
 

Laura didn’t use patches or gum to help her quit and told no one she was giving up. She just firmly decided to give up.

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Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
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Yes, don’t just do it, because you want to save money or you know, you’ve got to give up because you don’t want to smoke any more. That can be really, that’s in my experience what will work. The other stuff doesn’t work. And I also think you need to make big changes in your life to make it happen, because it is such a routine thing smoking. You reach for them automatically on every single tick that happens on that day where you would normally have had a cigarette so if you can change that routine and make your life a bit different, so that you’re not reaching for the cigarette automatically I think that’s the one of the easiest ways to help yourself getting over it.

Because I didn’t do patches or chewing gum or anything like that. I felt that was just more chemicals at the end of the day and the point was to stop that whole chemical thing so the routine is actually for me what made me smoke more than anything. Because I’d reach for a cigarette in the morning on the way to work, because that’s when I’ve had a cigarette, in the morning on the way to work. Not because I was thinking oh I’m gasping for a cigarette, so yes, you’ve got to change, change what you’re doing.

And sort of, I know you were saying that you, you gave up, and in that sense didn’t, you didn’t even tell anybody or anything like that?

Not really. It wasn’t a big deal thing. People, no I didn’t walk around going I’ve given up smoking. I didn’t do any of that. No symbolic thing, thing with people watching. It was just literally a case of, “Aren’t you smoking Laura?” “No I’ve stopped.” “All right. Okay.” And I think that helped. Because then there was no pressure. There was no, because I didn’t say, “Oh I stopped yesterday.” And so they went, “Oh not long then.” Or anything like that. It was just so not a big deal. I didn’t get harassed or had to talk about it with anyone, because they didn’t know I’d stopped and because I was so casual about it. I supposed everyone assumed oh she did it a while ago or something. I’m not sure but that was quite a good way of doing it as well.
People we talked to often mentioned willpower, whichever quitting method they tried. Tom (above) reasoned that if he lacked the willpower to stop smoking without help he probably couldn’t do it with it. So it was best to try alone, though he didn’t really know if he was being ‘pig-headed’ or lazy in not wanting to attend a stop smoking group.

Needing extra support

Others who tried to give up by themselves had found it too difficult. In the end they had given up with the help of self-help materials, behaviour counselling, NRT or medication. Realising that they preferred additional support was an important step for many. Carol thought you had to be a ‘very strong personality’ to quit by yourself. Caroline tried going cold turkey but she missed smoking too much manage it.
 

Jules used various different aids, but thought that wanting to give up was the most important thing.

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Male
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I mean I haven’t actually had the real cravings that I used to have before when I gave up smoking. I think about smoking a bit more in the sense that I want a cigarette, I think about smoking in a sense that I don’t want a cigarette. It’s a totally different mindset, and I know that that’s [name of daughter] that’s done that but it’s also I don’t want it. Because I know the health reasons and … you know. But I couldn’t recommend any particular way. I wouldn’t say that this is better than that. But that’s as long as you’ve that desire to give up smoking. You want to give up smoking. You will.
 

Roger suspected that would not have the willpower to quit by themselves. Taking varenicline (Champix) reduced the cravings and enabled him to quit.

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Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
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I recognise that I hadn’t got, or I didn’t, I’d convinced myself possibly that I hadn’t got the willpower to quit myself, doing the cold turkey technique. I hadn’t got the willpower to do that. And I know from personal experience of knowing people, that some people can quit addictions by just cutting, no help, no assistance, no little techniques or anything, just quit, and other people can’t. They have to be tailed off and have replacement therapies and all sorts of things, and just as a just as a heroin addict will go onto methadone therapy, so I, so a tobacco addict will go onto nicotine gum or nicotine replacements, the same principle. And that, and that, that would have to be how I did it, although I didn’t go onto replacement, I went onto Champix, which I don’t quite know how it works, but it just you just without making any effort just don’t want to smoke. It’ s wonderful. Just wonderful. Just a packet of fags there and you just don’t want to smoke one. It’s like ‘what?’ It’s absolutely mind blowing. It’s a wonderful feeling. Hmm.

​Last reviewed August 2018.
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