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Ask Anyone

can't quite quit

I’m 38 years old, and I have been smoking since I was 16. I would really like to quit, but so far cold turkey and the patch have failed me. Do you have any suggestions?

—Nick O’Teen

By Design says: Smoke a couple of your least favorites back-to-back for a half hour. that’s what I did, and I’ve been smoke free for six years.

The Straight Skinny: I heard even Obama quit smoking. So be presidential about it: Spend a few days in the country, Camp David style, and bark at the trees and grouse at the world, and then get back to work. And whatever you do, don’t go see any movies where people are smoking. Because they’re designed to make smoking look as delicious and cool as it in fact is.

Parentless Daughter of Two Heavy Smokers says: Go volunteer at Camp Good Days & Special Times, a cancer camp for children. This camp is dedicated to giving joy to children and adults, sometimes one of the last “fun” experiences before surrendering to the deadly disease. When you think of actively sparking up your next slender white stick of death, ponder this: Cancer does not discriminate but this poor child didn’t have any say in the Russian roulette of contracting the disease. But you have a choice.

The Omniscient One says: Quitting smoking, or anything really, can only be achieved by substituting the compulsion to smoke with some other compelling activity. Too often, that other activity is consuming vast quantities of unhealthy food, which is why people who quit smoking often gain weight. But you could try to substitute something healthy for your cigarettes—like eating celery, or going to the gym, or re-grouting the tiles in the shower. If you can maintain discipline for a month, you should have shaken free of the worst part of the withdrawal, leaving only that deep psychological yearning for the pleasures of smoke and the company of smokers.

You can try hypnosis, though a hypnotist I know says it won’t work: Addiction can’t be masked, it must be confronted.

You can also try this diabolical guilt-based method, which an acquaintance named Mary, a nonsmoker, once employed to help a friend named John quit: Mary told John that the first rule was that he was not allowed to smoke in his own house. If he wanted to smoke, he had to walk a block to her house and smoke in her basement.

So that made smoking a bit of a chore. To that, Mary added guilt: Though a nonsmoker, she joined him in her basement, smoke for smoke. John came over for a smoke exactly once, and now he’s been clean for three years.

One last thing: If you’re in a relationship with someone who smokes, you both have to quit. It will never work otherwise.

The Chimney says: My friend, you have a tough road ahead of you. I also picked up the habit years ago, before I knew how powerful the addiction to cigarettes can be. I’ve had some success with quitting over the years, but it’s never been permanent yet.

My problem always seems to be that as my lungs improve, and my energy increases, I begin to feel invincible—the way I felt when I was younger, taking my first puff. So I take one. Then, it’s all over.

Pharmaceutical companies are always coming out with new drugs designed to make your attempt at quitting more successful, but then there are always the disclaimers that the drug might make you depressed and suicidal. Cold turkey is apt to make you depressed and irritable, but at least not suicidal.

If you want to quit, keep trying. The change must come from within, I suppose, so don’t listen to anyone else. I’ve always found that the encouragement of nonsmokers is usually counterproductive. The last thing a smoker needs to hear is the advice of some innocent who knows nothing about addiction to nicotine.

In the meantime, take solace in the fact that in New York State the tax on your habit provides essential money to keep the state running. According to the New York Times, new state cigarette taxes passed in 2010 “provide $440 million in revenue for health care programs, including subsidies for AIDS drugs, money for tobacco cessation programs, and $71.6 million for the state cancer research center in Buffalo.” So, future lung and throat cancer patients across the state are making it possible for Roswell Park to continue promoting prostate exams as the basis for performing unnecessary treatments on middle-aged men today.

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