Quitting Nicotine Addiction

By James M. Rochford

I’m not going to lay a big guilt trip on you for being addicted to nicotine. In fact, if you have no desire to quit nicotine, then this article will be of no use to you. This is only for people who have a desire to quit, and want get this out of their lives. Others can ignore this altogether.

Are you sick of being addicted to nicotine, and what to change? We highly recommend the methodology of Allen Carr in his book Easy Way to Stop Smoking (2011).[1] This is the all-time #1 bestselling book on how to quit smoking, and it’s easy to see why. Carr’s book is fun to read, positive, hopeful, and effective—no scare tactics, no pictures of blackened lungs, no stories of people speaking robotically out of their tracheotomies. In other words, no guilt or shaming! (After all, if these approaches worked, then you would’ve already quit!)

We strongly encourage you to buy and read Carr’s book if you’re interested in quitting. However, this article will give you a primer on Carr’s approach, which may help you through the process. While nicotine addiction applies to smoking, vaping, chewing, etc., we will use smoking for simplicity.

The Secret to Quitting: REALIZE YOU AREN’T GIVING ANYTHING UP!

We have been brainwashed into thinking that smoking gives us something valuable. We tell ourselves that smoking relieves stress, controls our weight, helps us relax, aids concentration, and makes food and good drinks taste better. The key to quitting smoking is to realize that none of this is true. Smoking doesn’t give us anything positive.

When you quit, you need to see and believe that you really aren’t sacrificing anything. What do we gain from smoking? Carr’s thesis is simple: “Absolutely nothing! The only thing the cigarette does is remove the aggravation caused by the previous cigarette, so that the smoker, for a moment, feels like a non-smoker” (p.45). Nicotine feels like it’s relieving stress, but it’s actually just relieving the stressful symptoms of withdrawal from the previous cigarette. Carr writes, “This, for me, is the saddest thing about smoking: the only ‘enjoyment’ a smoker gets from a cigarette is temporary relief from the discomfort created by the previous one. All the smoker is looking for is the state of peace, tranquility and confidence that they had before they started smoking in the first place” (p.25). Carr gives several illustrations to capture this idea:

Shoes that are too tight. Imagine wearing shoes that are three sizes too small. At the end of the day, you take them off and breathe a sigh of relief (p.180). You think, “Wow, these shoes really relieve stress. I feel great!” The same is true of smoking. We put our bodies through painful withdrawal, and when we smoke, we give the cigarette the credit for feeling better. Listen carefully: You’re not feeling better. You’re feeling normal.

Growing sore on your face. Imagine waking up with a nasty sore growing on your face. You need ointment to make it go away. In time, the ointment works less and less effectively, and the sore grows quicker and larger. Later, you learn that the sore would go away if you merely stopped using the ointment… Would you stop? Of course! Would it take willpower or self-effort to quit using the ointment? No way! You’d feel good about your decision to quit, and enjoy throwing the anointment in the trashcan (pp.65-67).

Instantly out of shape. Imagine going to sleep in tip-top shape, but waking up 30 pounds overweight. You have a nagging headache, your energy is zapped, and you feel lethargic throughout the day (p.89). Smoking is this way—only it takes 20 years for this to happen to the smoker—not 24 hours. But think about it: Who would pay to do this to themselves? Moreover, it works the other way too—only faster. The effects of being off nicotine feel incredibly good, but you can’t access them for 3-4 weeks.

Again, smoking doesn’t offer anything positive. In fact, if smoking really relieved stress, controlled our weight, helped us relax, and aided concentration, then tobacco companies would advertise this in support of their product. Instead, “it is smokers, not tobacco companies, who make these claims” (p.181).

Smoking doesn’t relieve stress, but actually causes it. When we’re not smoking, we’re going through withdrawal from nicotine. So, when we light up, we feel relieved and think, “These things really help with my stress!” But the withdrawal is actually the cause of the stress—not the cure. Carr writes, “What we forget is that withdrawing from the previous cigarette created that empty feeling in the first place! This is the illusion of pleasure we associate with smoking. We only acknowledge the boost the cigarette gives us. What we don’t acknowledge is that the previous cigarette created the need for the boost back to normal in the first place” (p.27). He adds, “The cigarette gets the credit for everything and the blame for nothing. The moment you stop smoking, everything that goes wrong in your life is blamed on the fact that you’ve stopped smoking” (pp.55-56).

Think about it: What does smoking actually do for you? Do you really enjoy it, or do you feel compelled to do it? And can you tell the difference between the two?

How did I get addicted in the first place?

Was existence so stressful, boring, and lifeless that you just thought to yourself, “Wow, I really need to start smoking…”? Not likely! It’s way more likely that you started smoking because you saw an action star light up immediately after he blew everyone away with a machine gun. Or maybe, your role models, peers, or parents were smokers. So, you thought it couldn’t be that bad to start.

Regardless, notice what all of these reasons have in common: None of them are reasons! No one gave good reasons why smoking is so good for you. You weren’t talked into this addiction, but you definitely need talked out of it.

Did anti-smoking campaign ads help? Not at all. If they did, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Instead, these ads of cancer-ridden people just cause more stress, and consequently, these made you want to smoke more! Besides, a young and healthy person who occasionally smokes doesn’t identify with a sickly, old person (p.40). You may have thought, “That person refused to quit, and I’m gonna quit long before then. I don’t plan to smoke into my 50s or 60s. After all, how could I stay addicted to something that smells and tastes so terrible?” And yet, here you are. You’ve been smoking far longer than you planned. And what’s worse, you think that you’ll just wake up one day with the desire to spontaneously quit.

90% of smokers started before the age of 18 (p.38). Think back to what you were like when you were a teenager. Would you want that former version of yourself running your love life, your career, your friendships, etc.? Surely not! Now that I’m older and more mature, I would never let that more immature version of myself run my life. Yet, every time you light up a smoke, you’re letting a teenage version of yourself continue to control your adult life.

Cognitive distortions that keep us addicted

Our culture is obsessed with the chemical component of nicotine addiction. However, this is greatly exaggerated: the chemical addiction is not as bad as you think. Carr writes, “Eight hours after putting out a cigarette, you are 97% nicotine-free. After just three days of not smoking, you are 100% nicotine-free… Most smokers go all night without a cigarette. The withdrawal ‘pangs’ do not even wake them up” (pp.33-34).

The real battle is not in our bloodstream but in our beliefs—not in our physical cravings but in our distorted thinking. When we become fully convinced that smoking doesn’t give us anything, then we will kill the desire and not want to smoke.

“My relative smoked three packs a day, and he lived until he was 80. I’ve got good genes!”

Let’s just suppose you are right, and you really did hit the genetic jackpot… So what? What did you really win? When you think about it, it seems like you actually lost tens of thousands (or even hundreds of thousands?) of dollars investing in something that was slowly poisoning you with each puff. You lost a greater enjoyment of life and a higher quality of life. You lost significant freedom, because smoking took control of how you ordered and structured your lifestyle based around when and where you would light up next.

“It’s just a habit.”

Only the “smoking habit” restricts your freedom to such a terrible degree. Only with this habit do you actually pay good money to take years off of your life; it makes your mouth taste like a small animal died in there; it zaps your energy; it occupies your mind when you can’t light up. Name one other “habit” that meets all (or any) of these criteria. Let’s be clear: smoking isn’t a habit; it’s an addiction.

“It makes me more relaxed.”

Nicotine is a stimulant. It raises your heart rate and your blood pressure. There is no known cause for making you feel relaxed. For proof, look at the other smokers in your life. Do they look measurably more relaxed than the non-smokers? Carr writes, “If any of these things were true, smokers would be happier and more relaxed than non-smokers” (pp.12-13). Moreover, non-smokers don’t see smokers as less stressed or happier. In fact, when smokers can’t smoke, they look anxious (e.g. biting their nails, tapping their feet, etc.).

The feeling of relaxation is the self-imposed relief from the withdrawal to the previous cigarette. Smoking doesn’t help us relax. Instead, we can’t be relaxed unless we’re smoking—feeding the addiction. In a sense, by smoking, you are returning to the normal state of relaxation that the average non-smoker possesses! In other words, your goal is to be relaxed like a non-smoker, and falsely believe that smoking makes this happen. Wouldn’t it be nice to just feel normal again?

“It helps with boredom.”

Smokers are not less bored than non-smokers. The only difference is that “now you are bored and smoking” (p.52). Smokers are generally less active, more lethargic, and honestly more prone to being bored. Carr writes, “Instead of getting up and doing something when they are bored, as a non-smoker does, the smoker tends to want to lounge around, bored, relieving their withdrawal pangs” (p.53). So true! Our smoking spreads into other areas of life, bringing boredom with it.

“It helps me to concentrate and gives me a boost in the morning.”

Wait a minute! Earlier, you said that smoking makes you feel “more relaxed.” So which is it? Does smoking make you feel more relaxed, or does it make you concentrate and give you a boost? Moreover, why can’t you try a stimulant that doesn’t slowly suffocate you, emptying your bank account in the process?

Actually, smoking makes you more distracted, because you keep thinking of the next cigarette break. Thus, by “experiencing withdrawal” it “makes it harder to concentrate” (p.54).

“I have an oral fixation.”

If smoking was merely an oral fixation (whatever that means!), then why do you feel the need to light the cigarette on fire? Why do you feel compelled to suck on it and inhale it? Why not just chew on it like a pencil or toothpick?

“Once a smoker, always a smoker.”

Again, these thoughts are the shackles that keep you enslaved to nicotine! Let’s analyze this cognitive distortion. It gives the impression that you’re giving something up when you quit. You fear that you’re going to go through the rest of your life feeling an aching void for a cigarette. But what if you realized that you didn’t want and didn’t desire to smoke? What if you actually enjoyed life more after you quit?

“I could die tomorrow.”

It’s true that you could be run over by a bus tomorrow. However, do you still look both ways when crossing the street? (p.77) Did you know that the odds of being harmed or even dying from smoking vastly outweigh an accident like this. How does continuing to smoke make it worth the risk?

“I’m a casual smoker.”

First of all, everyone started as a “casual smoker,” we’re treading into dangerous territory. Second, casual smokers often say that they can stop anytime: “If he enjoys smoking, then why does he want to stop? If he doesn’t enjoy it, why does he start again?” (p.125) Finally, Carr notes, “If casual smokers think that smoking is so enjoyable, why don’t they do it more?” (p.123)

“Just one cigarette won’t hurt. I had a bad day.”

You need to rethink this idea: Just one cigarette won’t help! It gives you nothing! You need to see that the devious nature of cigarettes is not analogous to a bomb, but to a chain-reaction. If you choose to light up, this leads to another… and another… and another…

You’ve believed this concept over and over—and over and over you keep falling for it. Every single occurrence of falling back into nicotine addiction has started with this thinking!

Remember, you will continue to have good and bad days throughout your life—whether you smoke or not. Smoking doesn’t fix your bad days; it only makes them worse.

“I can’t help having a cigarette with a beer or my morning coffee.”

Neither alcohol nor caffeine have this much control over you. You wouldn’t accept this thinking from someone else—as though they were a totally helpless victim after a couple drinks.

“I’ll put on weight if I quit.”

Seriously? So, are you honestly saying that you’re smoking for the sake of your health? Besides this, Carr makes the obvious point: “Stopping smoking does not lead to weight gain; overeating does. Food and any other substitutes make it harder to quit smoking, not easier” (p.151). Since you’ve committed to reading something on quitting smoking, you should spend some time on eating healthy and exercise.

“I’ll quit someday.”

This isn’t how drug addiction works. It gets progressively harder with time—never easier. When do you plan to stop? Are you waiting to wake up one day with a magical desire to quit? (p.76)

Practical Steps to Quitting

What are all of the benefits of quitting, and all of the benefits of continuing? Everyone needs to come up with their own reasons for quitting. However, let’s be clear: Even serious smokers will admit that a cost-benefit analysis is a “no contest” competition. In fact, smoking doesn’t give us anything positive, but it gives us plenty of negatives.

Slavery. Smoking controls your life. It occupies your mind, telling you where, when, and how to live life. Even during times of joy or ecstasy, you’re still thinking about when and where you’ll fit in the next cigarette, planning your days around the next smoke. When you lose access to nicotine, even for a few minutes, you are beside yourself in fear, frustration, and panic. Wouldn’t it be nice to be free from this slavery?

Money. Would you pay $100,000 to smoke a single cigarette? (p.74) If you aren’t deciding to quit, then this is essentially what you are doing. You just can’t get it through your head that this next cigarette will set off a chain reaction to thousands of others.

Loved ones. Do you love smoking more than you love the precious years of life you can have with your loved ones? (p.79) Imagine if I handed you your car keys and said, “You have a 50% chance of making it home, and a 50% chance of having a fatal car accident.” Would you drive home or stay the night? I’d be crashing on the couch, because it’s simply too risky. But this is why you’re saying by continuing to smoke. You’re rolling the dice on the next several decades of your life.

Health. Smokers have “black shadows” constantly hanging over their head (p.95). They constantly think about the health concerns that accompany their addiction, and they have to constantly convince themselves that these realities won’t come to fruition. This is a taxing mental battle!

How NOT to quit: WILLPOWER

The “willpower method” convinces us that we are making a sacrifice by quitting (p.100). But this makes us fail before we even begin. Carr writes, “The Willpower quitter is not really a non-smoker but a smoker who is not currently allowing himself to smoke. This is why relapse is so common among people who quit using Willpower—they never remove the desire to smoke…. Think about it, who is more likely to relapse: someone that doesn’t want to smoke or someone that does?” (pp.102-103)

Instead of starting with excitement, we start with “doom and gloom,” even warning our friends and family saying, “Look, I’m going to try to quit so I’m going to be irritable and cranky for a few months. Try to bear with me.” (p.105) Again, we fail before we even begin!

Willpower leads to believing that smoking gives us something that we’re naturally missing. However, Carr’s thesis is simple: we’re not missing anything in the first place!

This leads to never feeling like you quit, but worrying when you’ll start again. You might have a “craving,” even years after the physical addiction is gone. This shows without a doubt that this is mental brainwashing—not physical addiction.

How to quit

In order to get rid of smoking, we need to kill our desire to smoke. Carr writes, “True success in the smoking cessation context is when you are happy to be a non-smoker, and when you are able to enjoy the health, happiness and freedom to which this most wonderful of achievements entitles you” (pp.109-110).

How bad is the withdrawal? Remember, smokers go between 8-10 hours without a cigarette at night, but they aren’t waking up in agonizing withdrawal (p.114). Thus Carr writes, “Our obsession with the chemical side of the addiction is misplaced. The real problem is psychological. Ironically, all smokers and nearly all doctors know this, yet still we are told that the solution is a pill or a patch.” (p.114)

A person is 100% nicotine-free after 72 days. However, it can take three weeks before our mind catches up with our body (p.162). Don’t mope around, feel bad for yourself, or develop an attitude. Instead, rejoice! Realize that the feeling of withdrawal is the relatively quick death of the “little monster” that was keeping you enslaved (p.156). Don’t doubt your decision, but celebrate what you chose to do instead (p.158). Look forward to your future life as a non-smoker, and all the benefits that come with it.

When you have a craving, don’t try to ignore it. Rather, confront it. Remind yourself that you already gave yourself a gift of quitting. Reconsider (literally “think again”) about the common thought, “I want a cigarette.” This actually creates the craving. The pros and cons of smoking is a “no contest” competition. You made the right decision, and remind yourself to rejoice.

When should I plan to quit? There’s a couple of views on this. From one perspective, you should choose a time when you have the most chance of success. For example, if you typically smoke during times of stress, choose a week where work will be lax. If you smoke during times of boredom, choose a busy week (p.140).

Another approach is to pick terrible timing! After all, this will show you that you don’t need cigarettes, and there is nothing to fear. Carr compares this to inching slowly into a cold pool versus just diving in (p.142).

Notice the feelings and sensations of your final cigarettes. Instead of just going through the motions, take notice of how they taste, smell, and make you feel. Moreover, before you smoke your last cigarette, answer two questions: (1) “Do you feel certain of success?” and (2) “Do you have a feeling of doom and gloom or a sense of excitement and anticipation that you are about to achieve something really wonderful?” (p.191) If you aren’t certain on how to answer these questions, then you need to start from scratch and reread this article or Carr’s book.

Embrace “associations” or “triggers.” Many smokers lit up after a meal, on the way to work, or with their morning cup of coffee. When they encounter these events, they have an association to break (p.163). Your natural inclination will be that you want a cigarette. This needs to be countered; otherwise, you’ll feel deprived and sad, leading back into a “willpower approach” to quitting. Carr writes, “You will think about smoking—but it’s what you are thinking that it important. Whenever you think about smoking, think how wonderful it is that you have broken free” (p.166). He adds that we should savor these moments, reminding ourselves how great it is to be free from this addiction. He argues that blind optimism doesn’t work. He writes, “There is a saying that the optimist sees the bottle as half-full and the pessimist sees it as half-empty. In the case of smoking, the bottle is empty and the smoker sees it as full” (p.167).

Should I avoid social interactions? Carr writes, “As for social occasions, my view is that you have achieved something wonderful and that you should celebrate from square one, not sit at home moping. Remember—you haven’t lost a friend; you’ve killed a deadly enemy. This enemy was not only trying to kill you, but was also stealing from you; your health, energy, self-confidence and self-esteem, money and your freedom. Why wouldn’t you be happy to get rid of such an evil monster? ‘Get out and enjoy yourself!’ is my advice” (p.186).

Summary Checklist (pp.204-205)

Carr gives this final checklist for the person committed to quitting:

  1. Make a solemn vow that you will never, ever, smoke, chew, suck or otherwise consume anything that contains nicotine, and stick to that vow.
  2. Get this clear in your mind: there is absolutely nothing to give up. By that I don’t mean that you will be better off as a non-smoker (you’ve known that your entire smoking life); nor do I mean that the pleasure or benefit from smoking is not worth the expense and risk. What I mean is that there is absolutely no benefit to smoking whatsoever. It is like banging your head against a wall because it feels a bit better when you stop.
  3. There is no such thing as a confirmed smoker. You are just one of the millions who fell for this subtle trap. Like millions of ex-smokers who once thought they couldn’t escape, you have escaped.
  4. If you were to weigh up the pros and cons of smoking, the conclusion would always be the same—to be a non-smoker and happy about it. Having made what you know to be the correct decision, don’t ever make yourself miserable by doubting it.
  5. Don’t try not to think about smoking or worry that you are thinking about it too much. But whenever you do think about it—whether it’s today, tomorrow or the rest of your life—think, ‘YIPPEE! I’M A NON-SMOKER!’
  6. DO NOT use any form of substitute.
  7. DO NOT carry or keep any smoking materials.
  8. DO NOT avoid other smokers.
  9. DO NOT change your lifestyle in any way purely because you’ve stopped smoking. If you follow the above instructions, you will soon experience the moment of revelation.

But: 10. Don’t wait for that moment to come. Just get on with your life. Enjoy the highs and cope with the lows. The moment will come, and when it does, it’s a moment of pure joy.

[1] Allen Carr, Easy Way to Stop Smoking (New York: Clarity Marketing, 2011)