Health News Digest

Smoking and Quitting

November 5, 2018

Smoking And Quitting—A Follow-Up

By Michael D. Shaw

The original piece ran last September, and started off with a bit of history. The first European smoker was part of Columbus’ crew, and before long many others were taking up the habit. Cigarettes would finally become the dominant smoking material only after the advent of the cigarette-rolling machine in 1880.

The percentage of Americans (18 and over) who smoke has been tracked by the Gallup organization since at least 1949. In that year, it was 44%, reaching its all-time high of 45% in 1954 and 1958. The Surgeon General’s report was issued in 1964, and by 1969, the number would drop to 40%. By 1978, it would fade to 36%. The latest data (2016) pegs it at 15.5%.

So, to expropriate the famous ad campaign: We’ve come a long way, baby. Still, 68% of current smokers want to quit.

The Web, of course, is chock full of suggestions on how to quit. Here are a few that are more offbeat:

1. Financial Incentives

In May, 2015, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study entitled “Randomized Trial of Four Financial-Incentive Programs for Smoking Cessation.” In this effort, a group of 2,538 CVS Caremark employees and their relatives and friends were randomly assigned to one of four incentive programs or to conventional care for smoking cessation. The rewards offered were either individually-based or group-based. And, in certain cases, involved a deposit, which could then grow to a larger return.

While the non-deposit programs were much more popular (90.0% acceptance by the assignees), the deposit programs (only 13.7% acceptance) were the most effective. 52.3% of those who accepted deposits versus 17.1% of those who accepted rewards had sustained abstinence through six months, with similarly large differences observed at all time points. More granular findings are available in the publication.

The authors cite eight references establishing the efficacy of financial incentives to promote a variety of healthy behaviors, including fighting drug addiction; encouraging weight loss; adherence to warfarin regimens; and earlier efforts toward smoking cessation.

2. Change Eating Patterns

According to the American Cancer Society: “Eat four to six small meals during the day instead of one or two large ones. This keeps your blood sugar levels steady, your energy balanced, and helps prevent the urge to smoke. Avoid sugary or spicy foods that could trigger a desire to smoke.”

3. Change Your Environment

Also from the ACS: “For the first few days after you quit smoking, spend as much free time as you can in public places where smoking is not allowed. (Libraries, malls, museums, theaters, restaurants without bars, and churches are most often smoke-free.)” Some folks have purposely started new jobs with employers who forbid indoor smoking.

4. Aversion Therapy

The administration of electric shock to those who are not in compliance with smoking cessation goals has been around for some time. So, too, has the practice of “rapid smoking,” whereby the subject is forced to puff every few seconds to produce revulsion and nausea.

The Stephen King short story “Quitters, Inc.” (later included in a movie anthology) takes aversion therapy to a new level, as their treatment center is run by the Mafia. This scene illustrates how a client’s wife is given electric shock for his violation of his non-smoking agreement. And, that’s only the penalty for the very first violation.

5. Herbal Therapy

The idea here is to reduce cravings and the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Substances frequently mentioned include green tea, lobelia tea, valerian, ginseng, cayenne pepper, and green oat extract.

Along these same lines, I was just introduced to a product called Quit WTR®, described as a drug-free, nicotine-free and non-addictive stop smoking remedy that helps you defeat cravings and get through the day without giving in to the urge to smoke. Using a blend of valerian root, oat straw, and holy basil, along with vitamins, minerals, and spices, the product is said to calm you down during those stressful moments of nicotine withdrawal. The website features numerous glowing testimonials, and a comprehensive FAQ section.

Sure, it’s tough to quit smoking, but there is no shortage of good products and advice to help you along. Believe me, it is worth it!