How One Smoker Quit

A few weeks ago, we posted an item about an ad executive in Australia named James Hurman who auctioned off his smoking habit, agreeing to pay a steep fine (about $800) for every cigarette he smoked after the auction closed. He wound up selling the contract, he writes, “for NZ $300 [about US $240] to somebody at the agency where I work — someone close enough to know if I owe them!”

Hurman had tried to quit smoking many times but was particularly keen in this case because he and his wife were expecting their first child.

Here’s a follow up note from Hurman about some interesting behavior modification that took hold once the auction was over. While Hurman represents a sample set of just 1, his story may well be instructive for the billions of us who routinely struggle to change our own behaviors.

Hi Stephen,

I wanted to write you and let you know how my campaign went … I think perhaps you’ll be interested in what’s happened since.

Obviously the idea was to give myself such a great disincentive that I’d be able to overcome the cravings and choose not to smoke cigarettes.

I’ve quit many times in the past and found it difficult, exhibiting each time the usual symptoms of annoyingly persistent cravings and irritability, my resolve breaking pretty easily around alcohol and late nights.

This time, however, the symptoms didn’t arrive.

The first week, when I would usually be highly irritable, I was completely unperturbed. The cravings, albeit there, were minor. The first month went by unusually smoothly.

Then on the 2nd of May I had a night out that I’d been worried about — I work in advertising and we had our industry awards night which is a huge blind-drunk-and-out-til-six-in-the-morning style affair. In terms of risk, this was high. I was kind of sure I’d either falter or have a massive internal struggle keeping my drunk self in check.

When I came to the next day I realized I hadn’t been even slightly tempted. I was out all night with smokers and as inebriated as I’ve ever been, but I hadn’t had to talk myself out of having a cigarette once. The cravings simply weren’t there — which breaks with my past experiences of quitting.

Subsequently, the past two weeks I’ve had two similar nights out (I’ve a baby on the way and I’m getting it out of my system!) and the same thing’s happened — been absolutely tanked and hanging around smokers but haven’t been the slightest bit tempted.

Same goes for during the day when I’m sober.

Thinking about it I wonder whether the scale of the disincentive has had a deeper psychological effect than simply giving me a reason to resist the cravings — it’s actually removed the cravings themselves.

Which, as I understand it, is possible given that the actual physical dependency only lasts a few days, and then the cravings are purely an act of the mind.

Could it be that the cravings only manifest in a context in which the mind considers it not-immediately-detrimental to smoke?

Could it be that when you introduce immediate danger, the mind, instead of bothering to consciously rationalize its way around the craving, just extinguishes the craving?

The other answer would be that I’m so desperate for my idea to work that I’m talking myself into it!


LL

@ Aussie Kiwi:
Yes, I was wondering why an Australian would quote prices in New Zealand dollars. But this is the New York Times site; if it were the [Toronto] Globe & Mail, they would never have made the mistake, understanding that New Zealand is Australia's Canada.
You must expect a lower level of American awareness about countries not currently under occupation.

Ed

I've been smoking on and off for about 8 years now, and never have any difficulty in quitting. I don't get craving, I just smoke because I'm bored/stressed and I like it.

Maybe I'm lucky, but I've quit now after finishing uni because they are too expensive in the UK! I'm sure I'll take the odd one here and there that are offered to me when I've had a few beers, but that doesn't worry me too much, as long as I stop wasting money!

Dan

I smoked for over 10 years. A year ago I stopped using anything with nicotine. It started with a couple cigarettes on weekends and ended with a pack a day.

Since my nicotine addiction was inconvenient in any number of situations (meetings), I started using the substitutes--gum, patches, lozenges. All worked for me. When I got a new car, I decided "no smoking in the car". That was the defining moment, deciding to remove, one by one, the times when I would smoke and replace them with a substitute. It took 2 years of transition, and I never stopped smoking. In fact, I never intended on stopping, I thought I would use nicotine until I did not want to anymore. I also thought that less exposure to smoke, replaced by ingested nicotine was probably better. In Montana, where cigarettes cost $4.50/pk, the replacement cost was similar/competitive.

About a year ago I woke up pretty ill. 24 hours later I had not had any nicotine, and thought, now would be the perfect time to see what happens if I don't have any more nicotine "for the time being". While I felt hypersensitive and hyper aware (almost like I was on an amphetamine) during the first couple of days, I never identified anything as a craving. In fact, I was even semi-euphoric--"sped up" as I felt.

Later, I discovered I had some situational triggers I did not consciously know about--and still have them on occasion. "Going out to the mail box to get the mail" was a funny one, since I don't smoke in the house. My solution for any trigger was saying to myself, "that is interesting, I did not know that was a trigger", as if taking outside myself.

It has been over a year. I gave away all my cigarettes and nicotine subs after about 2 months.
It was an expensive and unhealthy habit.

I recently saw the movie Candy--in it, an old heroin addict says something that reverberated with me, "When you can quit, you don't want to; when you want to quit, you can't"....

Read more...

David

In 1981 my best friend offered me a bet that I could not stay off cigs for a year. Only $100 but that was plenty of money then. I took the bet.

I could neither lie to him nor find any one cigarette worth $200 to smoke, so I won the bet.

That broke the physical addiction. I have smoked at times since then, but it has been easy to stop since I never smoked enough again to rebuild the nicotine dependence.

what to do?

Dear NSK;

Hurray (with an accent on the a) a few tips- my dad was a 4 pack smoker- he too stopped cold- that was at 40- never smoked again in his' life- wouldn't let smokers into car, house...... for fear that the urge might return- died at 89. And because of him, the producers of those things are concerned. When I get a giveaway notice, they must be. so I say- to the producers-- go use your wits to produce good things with your money- the best revenge with time and money.

Henry

I did this with my mother many years ago. Charged her $10 for every cigarette she smoked. I became quite effective as a vigilante (possibly detrimentally so - may have made it harder to get to sleep if I heard noises that suggested she was going outside). She eventually stopped, I'd like to think entirely as a result of that.

Stefan

I've always noticed as a heavy smoker how the cravings are quite dependent on possibility/availability. When at home, with no restrictions, the craving would become too much after an hour or so - while on an intercontinental flight of 15 hours, no problem at all....until 1 hour before the end of the flight, knowing that soon the possibility would be there. (and its always one hour before landing, whether the flight lasts 6 or 15 hours). And let's face it - no smoker ever woke up because his body was craving a cigarette.
Every smoker knows how his own mind is playing tricks on him, and perhaps this is the ultimate way to play a trick back.
Very fascinated by this story, and pondering how it can help me to quit - although time and again I find that deep down I'm not ready for it.

Ed H

I could never lose weight, 32 years and I could never fight off the cravings and force myself to cut down.
One 'Biggest Loser' contest with five friends and a $500 total kitty later? I lost 46 pounds and it was easy. Hmm....

Miranda

Until 1.5 years ago, I had been smoking for 17 years (I'm 35 now). During my 17 years of smoking, I temporarily quit once and that was when I was pregnant (only for 9 months). In my teens and early 20s, I never wanted to quit smoking cause I thought smoking was "smoking" and psychologically, I got addicted to it! I wasn't sure if I could quit ever as my smoker community keep telling me that it's impossible. Then in late 2006, I suddenly got bored with smoking. In addition, my father had cancer on his vocal cord (he was a heavy smoker and drinker) that made him lost his vocal cord forever (such a depressive state since he's a singer) and thus, would never be able to speak again (unless with the use of artificial larynx). Now he breathes through the hole on his neck - a stoma so that when he breathes, the air goes directly to his lung. Doctors said the cancer was due to heavy smoking and alcohol drinking. My father's condition had become my main motivation to quit. After I quit, to my suprise, I never have the cravings anymore - not even a bit! I'm amazed of myself for not having those cravings. I believe, when you "found" the real basic motivation for quitting smoking, it will be that easy. Keep telling yourself that it's as easy as snapping your finger and you'll be surprise how easy it is!

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Roland

There is a russian ex-army doctor who offers a crazy therapy for Heroin-addicts:

Relapse once and you die...

As I understand it, it works as follows: Heroin, or any opiate uses the endorphine receptors in the brain. The basic idea is to block/disable a large number of those receptors. And he apparently found some kind of drug/electric therapy that does this. This however means that from then on opiates are not "stopped" and used as supposed, but rather flood the rest of the central nerve system, where they cause respiratory paralysis, and death. The "test" afterwards involves giving a light dose of an opiate, and consequently having to artificially ventilate the patient. The effect wears off over time, but a year or so should be sufficient to overcome the addiction.

I have unfortunately not been able to find an english-language source for this, but the Doc and his patients had a number of appearances in well reputed swiss and german media, articles are available on the website - I tend to believe the story...
http://www.zobin-ch.com/

The interesting thing is that it provides an extreme case of manipulating incentives.

He claims to have "cured" 2000 junkies with 20 actually dying and some 30 per cent lapsing back after opiates become tolerable again.

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Aussie Kiwi

He's not an Aussie, he's a Kiwi. Oops!

Rob

26 years later still have occasional dreams where I have started smoking again. See Scientific American from a few months ago. The article claims there are permanent brain markers to having smoked.

Mike

"Don't think you'll get off that easy. Probably you'll get some delayed psychological cravings down the road, and that's when the real trouble will start." - Bruce

I don't like this attitude. Just because someone has gone past something like this others want to "warn" them that the worst is to come. While it is generous in nature, it can be harmful.

As you said Bruce, "psychological cravings", are the issue. If he has beaten them past the gate where the majority has done why do you want to place in his head that he has something bad coming. Self-fulfilling prophecy or Bruce-fulfilling prophecy.

My ex-wife was dealing pretty well with her mother's death and person after person came by and said, "Be ready for when the strong emotions come because they will." Her next emotion was guilt that she wasn't having the "right" kind of emotions. We should congratulate people not set them up for failure when they surpass our expectations which Mr. Hurman has done.

Sorry this is a bit of a hot button issue for me.

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Bruce

Don't think you'll get off that easy. Probably you'll get some delayed psychological cravings down the road, and that's when the real trouble will start. You may beat them back for awhile but they'll return. You'll go through a World War of desire, but if you make it through, you *might* have a chance. Get ready!

Abhishek Upadhya

Great work. And avoid massive passive smoking situations as well. Put a 400$ fine for that.

NSK

I had tried to quit a few times back when I was in college, but somehow never seemed to completely stay away. The desire to quit was always due to a defiance against people telling me its impossible to quit smoking. One fine day (about 20 years ago), I woke up and thought to myself "enough is enough" .. and since that day, haven't smoked. I feel good that I have been able to defy the "its impossible" school of thought. But, more importantly, it also has taught me that the makers of Nicorette (and the like) are engaging in day-light robbery (makers of cigarettes are engaging in day-light murder)!!

Tobin

I had smoked for a little over a year. I couldn't stop. For some reason, every time I stopped, I would just go to a bar and have one anyway. Then, I would have another since it didn't matter anymore. My girlfriend said we were over if I smoked again. I already wanted to quit, but after this incentive I have now noticed that I don't even have cravings anymore. This has shown me that I care about the relationship more than anything else. I thought it was interesting that I really haven't had any cravings though.

B

Scott Adams mentioned this some time back:

People who use hypnosis to quit smoking and quit overeating have about the same success as people who use other methods. In other words, it works less than half the time. The reason is simple. Hypnosis can only help you do what you want to do. If you want a cigarette more than you want to quit, hypnosis is useless. So is every other method. And if you want to quit more than you want to smoke, almost any method, including hypnosis, can make that quitting feel easier.

Original article: http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2007/07/hypnosis.html

Cris

Never understimate the power of becoming a father...

Barb

I was trying to buy a home and so I started keeping close track of my finances (much more so than usual). I realized that I was spending $1200 per year on my smoking habit (and I only smoked 10 cigs per day)! I was so appalled that I quit instantly and haven't craved it since! I'm coming up on my 2 year anniversary and can proudly say I have never lapsed.