Professor Robert West, world’s expert on nicotine and addiction, began smoking when he was a teenager but managed to quit while at university, on a girlfriend’s urging. Now, he has gone on to devote 30 years of his life studying nicotine addiction and finding ways to help smokers quit the habit for good. He currently heads a team of researchers at University College London who are aimed at finding better ways of helping smokers who want to stop.
Instead of suggesting one sure-fire way to quit smoking, Professor West gives diehard smokers several pointers to help them ditch nicotine addiction. In his book “The SmokeFree Formula: A Revolutionary Way to Stop Smoking No”, Prof West identifies what he calls “ingredients” that contribute to smoking cessation success. Here are some of them:
Give up now.
According to Prof West, for everyday that a person carries on smoking after your mid-thirties, they lose an average of six hours of life. But the moment the smoker stops, he/she starts to recover life expectancy at a rate of six hours a day. This means that quitting smoking is always urgent but it’s never too late. No matter how old you are, you can always benefit from stopping today than tomorrow.
Nicotine doesn’t work in a way that most people think it does.
Most people describe addiction as taking a drug to stay normal and stave off withdrawal symptoms. But according to Prof West, nicotine addiction is not that simple. People smoke because the nicotine they have been inhaling for years has changed their brain chemistry to create powerful urges to smoke, he explained. Smoking urges take place because nicotine has trained the part of the brain that gets the person to do things to light up, especially during situations wherein they would normally light up.
Harm reduction is effective.
Experts agree that reducing the amount you smoke has a very small benefit. But what is surprising is that evidence shows that when people cut down, without necessarily wanting to stop, they would have stopped a year on, especially if they used a quit smoking product.
But it’s best to stop abruptly.
About 30 to 40 per cent of smokers try to quit gradually. But Prof West’s research shows that smokers who quit gradually are 50 percent less likely to succeed in ditching the habit than those who quit abruptly. The explanation is this – when a smoker tries to quit by cutting back, each remaining cigarette becomes more rewarding and it creates a stronger link with the situation the person smokes it in. But if smokers can puff away until their quit date, it creates this very clear break between their smoking past and their non-smoking future. Prof West said it’s not a guarantee of success, but it does make a big difference.
In less developed countries like India, Prof West and his team found that an effective and cost-free quitting strategy is yoga or breathing control. Several studies suggest that a part of the brain called ‘insular’ is linked to cigarette craving, which happens to be important in controlling breathing as well. In their research, Prof West and the team found that people who did breathing exercises craved less for their cigarette.
Quitting smoking can be truly difficult for some. But the good news is there are many ways to succeed in this challenge.