Tried and Tested: Good Riddance

Giving up is hard to do, even with the range of help on offer. Our panellists try them all to kick the habit
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The Independent Culture
This Wednesday is No Smoking Day. It is estimated that a million people in Britain will attempt renunciation of the evil weed; and only 40,000 will succeed. Sometimes more than one go is required to conquer the craving for nicotine, a substance recently dubbed by the US Surgeon General as "more addictive than crack". There are, however, as many ex- smokers in the UK as there are smokers, and any number of possible routes to take for those who are keen to clean up their act.

THE PANEL

The panel ranged in age from 20 to 68 and consumption from "a few in a bar, twice a week" to "two packets on a bad day". Those who quit came from both ends of the smoking spectrum.

THE TEST

We recruited 12 smokers who were keen to give up, offering them free assistance with nicotine replacement and other therapies. The trial began on New Year's Day, and the results at the end of February (four quitters, three who cut down drastically, but will probably slide back to their former consumption rate, and five who are smoking as much as before) are slightly below the national average. Some failure may be blamed on the smokers not having to pay for their own treatments. But the overwhelming conclusion was that self-motivation and support from others were the most important factors.

**NICOTINE PATCHES

Boots from (5mg) pounds 11.25 for 7 patches; Nicorette pounds 12.69 for 7

Nicotine is not harmful; it is the tar and other by-products of cigarettes which damage health. So the principle behind nicotine replacement treatments is to alleviate some of the withdrawal symptoms by providing a low dose of the drug. Patches look like sticking plasters and deliver nicotine through the skin. Testers found no difference between brands, and Becky Munford's story typified those who failed: "I found the patches made my skin itch, and left redness under the plaster. After a week, they brought up dark bruising around the edges. I phoned Quitline [see below], who diagnosed an allergic reaction. I only used the patches during the day, taking them off around seven o'clock when they started to itch, but then I ended up smoking in the evenings. I'm still trying to give up. The good thing about the patches is that I don't feel the need for a cigarette when I wearing one. I think about it, but I don't have the slight shaking I normally get if I don't smoke."

*****QUITLINE (TELEPHONE COUNSELLING FOR SMOKERS)

Free

The panel voted Quitline, a smoking cessation charity which offers support and advice via a freefone number (0800 00 22 00) and mailed-out information, the winner in our survey. All the smokers called the number at least once. Their experience of the trained counsellors was wholly positive. "They were helpful without being patronising, which I had feared," said Becky Munford. "The leaflets with health information and steps to take if you're serious about quitting are invaluable," commented Phillip Allen. "The most important thing I learnt from them was that cutting down is hopeless; you have to prepare for it, then just stop," said Robert Farrant. "I felt the person I spoke to had gone through it all," was Isobel Wightman's view. The only complaint was that occasionally all the lines were busy. Quitline can also put you in touch with local stop-smoking groups

****ALLEN CARR'S EASY WAY TO GIVE UP SMOKING

Clinical session, pounds 120; book pounds 6.99

A smoking cessation business founded by the eponymous ex-chronic smoker, Allen Carr, now has clinics all over the world. But he is probably best known through his two books, Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking and Allen Carr's Only Way to Stop Smoking. (The latter is a more hard-hitting version for quitters who have slipped back into addiction.) The clinics claim a 95 per cent success rate through their four and a half-hour group sessions, offering free repeat visits to those who fail, but other smoking cessation experts find such results dubious. Heavy smoker Matt Innes ("say 20 a day, in case my parents are reading") went for a session at the London clinic. "It's not a miracle cure," he reported, "but it is worth the money. It's not brainwashing, exactly; it's repetitive reasoning against smoking. The main thesis is that smoking doesn't do any of the things you want it to do. It doesn't help you relax or to concentrate - these are all fallacies. Of course there are holes in the theory. But the clinic is not a scam, even if some of the underlying logic is faulty. For example, you're allowed to smoke during the session, otherwise you might be too stressed to listen; which contradicts the theory that smoking doesn't relieve stress." Matt Innes is now "having the odd cigarette, just at weekends." Six of the testers read Allen Carr's book; of these, three found it "excellent - it really brings home to you what a waste of time smoking is" (Ginny Mackintosh); three complained that it was "repetitious", that it "doesn't tell you anything you don't already know". Ginny Mackintosh, a former chain smoker, managed to quit completely. Her flatmate Pauline Reber, a more intermittent smoker, has also given up. "I found the Allen Carr book tedious to the point of being unreadable," she says. "And Ginny's endless proselytising irritated me. But then I was annoyed that she could give up and I hadn't."

***NICORETTE INHALATOR

Starter pack pounds 5.95 (6 capsules); reg pack pounds 19.95 (42 capsules)

The first product to deliver nicotine to smokers in a form which harmlessly mimics a cigarette, Nicorette's Inhalator looks like a dummy cigarette, which breaks open so that you can insert a nicotine capsule in the middle. The capsule is perforated as you close the mouthpiece and the nicotine is absorbed through the mouth lining. Lifelong 20-a-day man Robert Farrant succeeded in giving up - though not in the manner prescribed. "It gave me a terrible sore throat in the beginning; I found inhaling caused a burning sensation quite unlike smoking, but I gradually got over that," he says. "Then I lost the dummy, probably as a Freudian slip, because I was worried that I would have to kick the habit of using the inhalator just as if it were a cigarette. And you can't really use it in company; it looks ridiculous." Like other panellists, Robert Farrant cites "commitment" as the real reason why he has been able to quit.

ACUPUNCTURE

One session pounds 30

Piers Kotting hadn't had a cigarette for three weeks when he went to see an acupuncturist of 30 years' experience, Dr Lily Cheung. "I just thought, this is the time to give up, and I really enjoyed the whole process, I wasn't at all bad humoured like a colleague in the office." Piers wasn't fazed by having needles inserted into his shins and left ear. "But then the acupuncturist got out a little box of tricks and unwound a pair of crocodile clips to attach to the needles. She said, "You'll feel a little vibration" and turned on the current. Ouch." At the same time Dr Cheung taped Chinese herbs resembling "black crystals" to his right ear, which were to remain in place throughout the treatment period, and to be pressed "hard" for 20 minutes three times a day. This was to "stimulate natural morphine to be released into the body". "It hurt," says Piers. "And besides, I work in a service industry. I couldn't interview people for high level jobs in banking with bits of tape stuck to my ear." Whether influenced by not finishing the treatment or by his lack of conviction that the process was "scientifically speaking, a load of nonsense", Piers Kotting is now smoking again. His colleague still hasn't had a cigarette.

**NICOTINE GUM

(from) Nicorette pounds 5.25 for pack of 30, Boots pounds 4.99 for 30

Perhaps the least invasive of the nicotine replacement therapies, nicotine gum requires only a special chewing technique and a certain palate. Two strengths (2mg and 4mg) are available. The recommended course is up to 15 pieces each day for three months, which is regarded as realistic by pharmacists and excessive by consumers. Most testers suspected profiteering and felt they could wean themselves off the gum more quickly. Judging by the number who gave up, they were wrong. There was thought to be little difference between brands; smokers who disliked the taste loathed them all. "Foul," pronounced Cheryl Hartley. But Mort Hudson (who had used the gum in previous attempts to quit) was among those who endorsed the products, saying that they are "a socially unobtrusive and only occasional crutch when you feel desperate". After three weeks without a cigarette, he is now smoking his usual quota of 10 per day.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Nicorette is stocked by most pharmacies; Boots products at branches; Dr Lily Cheung's clinic 0171 727 6778; Allen Carr's book is published by Penguin; Allen Carr's Easy Way Clinics tel: 0171 935 5648; Quitline 0800 00 22 00.

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