For the New Year - How I quit smoking without drugs, therapy, or very much in the way of will power.*

A little over fifteen years ago my brother and I calculated how much we smoked over the course of our lives so far. A cigarette contains about a gram of combustible material (not all tobacco.) That's about 28 and a third cigarettes per ounce. That's about 454 cigarettes per pound or 23 packs per pound. (people in civilized countries that use the metric system can do the math much more easily.)

It turns out that, in ten years, I had smoked about 180 pounds of combustible cigarette material. I weighed about 180 pounds at the time. I had wanted to quit almost as soon as I started. It was really hard.

Here's how I finally did it. 1. I used a form of self-hypnosis (positive affirmation might be more accurate; though not the mumbo-jumbo kind), 2. I used scientific (enough) knowledge about how nicotine addiction operates, and 3. I employed a simple strategy of 'proactive perception.'

1. Self-hypnosis: No formal training or long explanation needed. Every night before I went to sleep I repeated the mantra: 'I don't smoke' over and over. That's all.

2. Scientific (enough) knowledge: Nicotine is a neuro-toxin and, at small enough quantities, a drug. What is the difference you ask? This is key. You do not need either toxins or drugs to survive. However, it is important to note that a drug has positive effects while a toxin does not. It turns out that, in small doses, nicotine (a stimulant) combined with endorphin (a powerful natural opiate - hormone - that 'turns off' your pain) that both enter your system as a result of smoking, (along with other things as well) appear to 'light up' the same areas of the brain in a brain scan that light up in people who are dealing well in a crisis (like firefighters) and in people who are in deep concentration (like chess masters.)

So, if you give up cigarettes, you are not only giving up the poison, but also a method for coping and focusing. If you do not replace these with something to help you cope and focus, it will be much harder to quit. This helps explain the weight gain suffered by many 'quitters' who, unconsciously, use food to cope and focus.

Exercise, sex, masturbation, playing a musical instrument (I dove into my saxophone), all work as great replacements. (The saxophone had the added benefit of replacing the oral fixation. Sex can help that way too.)

If you have a partner who smokes, they have to quit with you. Have sex more often. That will help. Look, how many times in your life are you going to get to tell your partner - 'It's because I care about our cardiopulmonary health, dear, don't you?' (This is the rare guilt trip I will ever advocate for, because it ends in an orgasm - assuming you are a man, have a considerate partner, or augment your experience with toys.)

3. The strategy of 'proactive perception': First principle - if you only quit for a day you have not failed - you have succeeded for a day (rinse - repeat). Second principle - quit the three most desired cigarettes in the day. Because you can't smoke while you sleep, for many, two of these cigarettes are the one right before bed, and the one when you wake up. Also, many really 'enjoy' a smoke after work where they don't have to go outside (be exiled) to do it. Forget the other cigarettes. Smoke 'em if you got 'em. Just wait an hour after these three special cravings (the one before sleep you will quit entirely - this will make the morning one tougher to wait for.) Third principle - do not hang out where people smoke. I had to give up my favorite tavern. I found out who my real friends were in the process. (This is easier today as many states/municipalities ban smoking in most public establishments.)

Eventually, you will begin to notice how fast the smell of any cigarette smoke you are exposed to permeates your hair and clothing. You will discover new subtleties of flavor in your food. You will, literally, breathe easier.

I haven't smoked in over fifteen years. I never turned into that annoying ex-smoker. (I am perfectly capable of being annoying - just not that kind of annoying.)

Really, as hard as it actually is to kick that deadly addiction - the above is all I did. For whatever reason, the third day was the hardest. The third week was surprisingly difficult. And, about three months into it, I had a string of disturbingly mundane nightmares where I found myself with half of a burning cigarette in my hand. I woke up in panic followed by relief that it was only a nightmare. After that, I never wanted one again.

*The above is not an FDA approved approach to quitting but has little to no known direct, negative or permanent side-effects. Results may vary. No guarantees of success are offered or extended. Possibly not entirely legal in some parts of Utah.

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Comment by Mister Harvey on January 16, 2010 at 5:53pm
I smoked one cigarette a day (right before bed) for over ten years. Thought it would be a cinch to quit. It was very difficult. Good to hear of your success. I love the method!
Comment by Howard S. Dunn on January 11, 2010 at 12:12am
Lol. My mother is dead. It still hurts a lot. But THAT little piece of wisdom I hope to immortalize any way I can.
Comment by Howard S. Dunn on December 31, 2009 at 4:15pm
non-penile anal stimulation now WHO doesn't love that. My mother - very near death and also, a very proper, respectable, 'civilized' woman - told me (to my shock, amazement, and total amusement) "At my age, a good shit is better than a fuck any day!"

Hey - I'm not advocating quitting. But, for those who are trying to - I was offering a method that worked for me. As John Lithgow's character on "Third Rock form the Sun" said (and I paraphrase) "They say smoking takes ten years off of your life. But those are the last ten, and usually suck anyway."

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