Smoking – What MSN Should Have Said
Posted by: Stephen Rigby at 12:58, February 26 2018.

A fellow hypnotherapist once said to me that telling someone that they are an addict is the best way to knock any effort to change out of them.  So, telling someone who smokes that they are addicted to nicotine is guaranteed to demotivate them and make them feel there is no way they can ever quit.

What MSN Said

In an article published on 10 January this year, aimed at giving smokers some motivation to stop smoking titled “This is what happens to your body just eight hours after quitting smoking” in a paragraph titled “Those are the benefits - here's the hard part” the first three sentences state:

You'll go into withdrawal and it's going to be tough.

Nicotine creates a chemical dependency so your body develops a need for a certain level at all times. 

Withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant and stressful, and you can expect to eat more to compensate. 

In these three sentences, smokers are told they are addicts and that they will put on weight.  That is enough to demotivate any smoker from attempting to stop smoking, even more so if that person has a bit of an obsession about their weight!

How Addictive is Nicotine?

The chemical effects of nicotine are well documented and we have all heard that nicotine is “highly addictive” but, when it comes to quitting smoking, this is only half the story because how addictive something is gives no indication as to how difficult it is to break that addiction.  As the MSN article highlights, the true measure of that is the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms.

Recent research suggests that in most cases smoking one cigarette can lead to someone becoming a regular smoker but vaping once does not lead to regular vaping.  In an episode of the BBC Two television programme “Trust me, I’m a Doctor”, Michael Mosley tried for a month with the help of an addictions expert to develop an “addiction” to nicotine – he failed!  This does not seem to make sense since the process of vaping can deliver the same amount of nicotine as a cigarette.  It makes sense, however, if the withdrawal symptoms from nicotine are extremely mild and there is another mechanism working when it comes to encouraging someone to continue smoking.

This other mechanism must involve the physical act of smoking because, before the smoking ban, sitting in a cinema, pub or restaurant for a couple of hours being choked by other’s cigarette smoke did not give the non-smokers any desire to buy cigarettes for their own consumption – quite the opposite!

Withdrawal, What Withdrawal?

The MSN article states that “Nicotine creates a chemical dependency so your body develops a need for a certain level at all times”, certainly this occurs with a chemical addiction but is meaningless if the withdrawal is negligible.

That the withdrawal symptoms are negligible is suggested by the experience of my Stop Smoking with Hypnotherapy clients, who generally state that their sleep is not disturbed by a need to smoke (8 hours) and that they frequently have no desire to smoke when travelling on long haul flights (12-13 hours).  I even had one client, smoking over twice the average number of cigarettes stated in the MSN article, who had even gone on holiday for three months and during that time, not only not smoked but did not even think of smoking – so much for withdrawal!

So Why Did He Not Want to Smoke?

Invariably the reason that smokers give for my client not smoking is because he was away from his normal routine and everyday stresses – this was not the reason but in saying this the smoker identifies emotional triggers for smoking as being stronger than chemical ones.  (If you want to fully understand how he did what he did you will have to come for a Smoking Cessation session.)

If one were to regard nicotine replacement as largely placebo it would explain why it does not work in the long term (the number of people smoking one year after stopping using nicotine replacement is the same as the number of people smoking who used willpower alone)!  NHS Stop Smoking Centres know emotions play a large part in a person smoking because they offer “psychological support” alongside Nicotine Replacement Therapy.  I wonder how many smokers realise that the stop smoking drug Zyban was initially developed as an antidepressant.

Looking at The MSN Article Positively

There is one positive in the MSN article but it is unlikely that it was intended in this way and that is if someone is told that a task will be difficult they will not attempt it until that are truly committed to completing it “no matter what”!  Unfortunately, most smokers do not make a commitment to stop smoking but “try” to stop or make an “attempt”.  This is most likely because deep down they fear that they will not be able to cope with their emotions without their “friend” and are ready to cave in at the first emotional challenge.

What the MSN Article Should Have Said

Diverting from the focus on Nicotine would have required a total rewrite but if the article truly wanted to motivate people to stop smoking this is what it should have said in that title and three subsequent sentences.

Make a Decision if You Want to be Free of Smoking

Do not expect it to be easy because now you have to find another excuse to take a break or get thinking time (or whatever you were using smoking to excuse).

People often use Nicotine replacement but this is largely a placebo as the discomfort that is often mistaken for withdrawal (cravings) is mostly emotional and will pass without the need for drugs.

Be careful not to substitute food for smoking because all comfort eating will do is make you put on weight.

All it Takes is to Stick to Your Decision

Nobody is saying that breaking the habit of smoking is easy or that Nicotine does not have a chemical effect on the body but quitting gets a lot easier if one has a more positive picture of the task being undertaken.  Smoking acts more like a habit than an addiction – a habit that is extremely easy to develop but still a habit.  Regarding smoking as a habit places the task of beating it firmly with the smoker as there is nothing else (no chemical) to blame.