Nagging friends and family can't get you to give up the weed? Your new pals on the internet might, finds CORA MANN
Gum, patches, nasal inhalers, tranquillisers, willpower. Tried the lot and still can't give up smoking? You're not alone: most would- be quitters take seven or eight tries to kick the habit if they attempt to go cold turkey all alone. The latest weapon in the fight against the fag is the online support service; I logged in last week to find out how the internet could help me to drop my 15 Silk Cut-a-day habit.

Quitnet ( is the world's largest stop-smoking programme; over the past five years it has garnered 20,000 recruits. It takes around 5,000 daily hits, with around 100 newbies signing up every day, and 500 messages posted each day in its forums.

So why do it this way, rather than simply buying a few nicotine patches or some gum or even, well, just stopping? Quitnet offers a comprehensive news service with everything you ever (or never) wanted to know about smoking, gathered from publications round the world; it also has a large information archive. There are Quitting Guides and Quitting Calendars to peruse and play with. You can take the Fagerstrom (yes, really) Quiz to discover just how addicted you are and therefore how hard it's going to be to stop.

But the main reason for joining is the interaction with other smokers who are going through withdrawal, all of whom are in the same position as you and who can offer support and help. Users post their stories, both of triumph and failure, and gather feedback, congratulations and encouragement from fellow Quitnetees. There are also several chatrooms for live cheerleading.

Not surprisingly, this is an American innovation, which initially is a bit off-putting for the uptight Brit. There is a very touchy-feely, carey-sharey atmosphere that is initially rather alarming. "Thanks for sharing!" "Way to go!"

However, read a few personal testimonies and you can't help being sucked in. Take the lady who gave up for six months, got into shape, sorted her life out - then fell behind with her gym programme, gained all her lost weight back, and went back to the weed. It's impossible not to want to cheer her on as she resignedly clambers back on the no-nicotine wagon, and her Quitnet friends enthusiastically rally round to help her to regain all that lost ground.

Stopping smoking, as we puffers well know, is an on-going process. When you log on to Quitline, a message announces how many members have "anniversaries" that day. Plenty of those who have managed to kick the habit return for further support - it's all too easy to slip back - and also to encourage other less advanced quitters.

Many Quitnet users sign themselves off with their non-smoking achievements: "Mavis, 93 days and counting!" or "Bert, seven months, four weeks, one day, 12 hours, 31 minutes and 54 seconds. 8453 cigarettes not smoked, saving $1267.77. Life saved: four weeks, one day, eight hours, 25 minutes".

These people are not spending their entire lives juggling with a pencil, paper and calculator; they are using a special program called a "meter" to track their progress. These are available online; one of the best can be found at, another stop-smoking website.

Silkquit doesn't mince its message; the first thing you meet is a scary message. "Worldwide death toll due to tobacco in 1999 now 2,206,558." Eek. By the time I logged back off, the total had risen to 2,206,628.

Silknet also has an extensive archive and chatrooms. One of the more fascinating links deals with alternative remedies to beat cravings and cleanse the system. Chew small pieces of dried pineapple mixed with honey, recommends an Ayurvedic healer.

A herbalist suggests a concoction of slippery elm and fenugreek tea; this can be discontinued after two days if you are not coughing or bringing up mucus. (Giving up smoking is an ugly business: check out the lists of symptoms.)

Or try the wet sheet pack, to help to detoxify your system. "After warming up with a hot shower, lie down on a bed with your entire body wrapped in a sheet wrung out in cold water. Then wrap yourself in one or more wool blankets. Your body heat will gradually dry the sheet, and you will begin to sweat. Leave the wrap in place for one to two hours after you start perspiring." A helpful further hint notes: "This treatment can be done at home but will probably require help from a partner." Quite.

Meanwhile, another user posts the cautionary tale of an 11-month-old kitten that swallowed a nicotine patch. (The patient was reported as recovering well but it is pointed out that pets and patches don't mix.)

And, more encouragingly, it seems there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that patches cause vivid dreams; one happy chap reveals that since he started sticking them on he has been having erotic dreams every night. Thanks for sharing! Way to go!