Thursday, April 5, 2007

Can you separate quit-smoking myths from facts?


Long thought to be cool and relaxing, smoking is now acknowledged -- even by the tobacco companies -- to be harmful and addictive; half a million people a year die of smoking-related diseases. Yet people continue to smoke; teenagers continue to start. There are many aids to help those who are ready to quit, but are you aware of all the mental and emotional aspects of quitting? True or false?

1. The only "right" way to quit smoking is cold turkey; every other way is just making excuses and prolonging the process.

2. Anti-depressant pills, patches, gum and other "crutches" may be easier psychologically, but they actually prolong the process and make it more difficult.

3. Smoking at least keeps you more slender, because when you quit you are bound to gain weight because of the oral fetish you have developed.

4. If you have a lot of bad habits, it will be easier psychologically to tackle them all together than it would be one at a time.

5. I really shouldn't try to quit smoking now because my work will suffer too much. I'm only able to work with an ashtray at my elbow.

6. As much as I would like to quit, I know it will be impossible because my spouse smokes just as much as I do, and he/she has no intention of quitting.


1. False. Quitting smoking isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition; if it were, there would be even more failures than there already are by people trying to tackle the problem in a way they can't really cope with. Everyone has to decide what is best for him- or herself, be it hypnotherapy, using a patch, chewing gum or puffing on a fake cigarette. Only about 20 percent of those who try to quit by any method in any one year succeed, so the method isn't the crucial element.

2. True. The low success rate of the crutch attests to the fact that the psychological aspect of quitting is so important. If a person is convinced that these helpers are going to assist him in cutting down gradually and making it easier at the end to quit, then he might actually benefit from them. But the truth is, many people hang onto the crutch because they are convinced they can't quit at all. Also, many of the products contain nicotine and have their own troubling side effects.

3. False. It is a common excuse to say that people substitute food for cigarettes because they have a psychological need to fill up the oral cavity with something. Yet studies have shown that weight gain after smoking averages only five or 10 pounds, hardly enough to worry about compared with the perils of not quitting. Chewing gum (not tobacco!), toothpicks or straws have been used effectively by some. The oral fixation may actually have more to do with keeping the hands and fingers busy, which can be accomplished by holding a pen, squeezing a stress ball or handling worry beads. An exercise program is helpful for ex-smokers who don't want to gain weight.

4. True. Smokers, just like the rest of us, often have other bad habits as well -- nail biting, hair twirling or overindulging in junk food. Believe it or not, it is easier to give up all your bad habits at once, because an entire lifestyle change likely will have fewer triggers remaining to guide the quitter back down the easy path of resuming smoking.

5. False. A common myth is that one's work life will suffer without the crutch of a cigarette, especially if it involves creative work or problem-solving skills. The way to dispel this myth is to modify the setting in which you work so there won't be the same familiar trappings at hand. Get a new coffee cup, or switch to water. Rearrange your office. Do a little work without a cigarette, and show yourself that you can still do it. Then have a stick of gum and keep on going.

6. False. There is no question that being around cigarettes and people who smoke will make things harder for you. But they don't have to be a reason not to quit. The best thing to do is get rid of smoking roommates or remove yourself from bars or bowling alleys, where there is still a smoking culture. If your spouse is the issue, you need to have a heart-to-heart talk to make sure she or he won't try to undercut your efforts either on purpose or subconsciously.

If you answered four or more of the six questions correctly, you are not likely to be sucked into the common myths that keep smokers puffing away.