Does Allen Carr's method quit smoking method really work?
March 4, 2011 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Looking for thoughts on Allen Carr's "The Easy Way to Stop Smoking"? Does it really work?

I'm on the 3rd day of my 3rd (or maybe 4th?) attempt to quit smoking since October. It's probably my 15th or so attempt since I first started smoking about 2 years ago. My last relapse was after a month and a half of not even wanting a cigarette (but then I had an intense therapy session and all of a sudden, I wanted one).

After a day of quitting once again, I saw a couple of people on Metafilter recommending "The Easy Way to Stop Smoking", so I downloaded it. I was, at first, a little annoyed by the first 50 pages being a sales pitch for the book, but when I got through the basic tenets (you smoke because it's an addiction, not b/c you like it, think of how awesome it will be to be free of cigarettes rather than thinking of it as a sacrifice), I'm actually surprised to find that quitting seems much less arduous. I feel more relaxed about it, I'm excited about not feeling sick and tired all the time, and I'm able to be more dismissive of "the nicotine" telling me to go out and buy cigarettes.

As I noted though, I'm on day 3, and I've relapsed after quitting for as long as 3 months. There's a part of me that wonders if what seems to be a re-conceptualizing of smoking will last in the long term. I also, contrary to his advice, am chewing nicotine gum (usually about 3 4mg pieces a day - only when I really feel like I want one). I'm wondering, people who've read the book - did it work for you? Are you now a happy ex-smoker, as Carr contended? If it did work, why was it effective?
posted by ktpetals to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I know someone who read it on a cross-Atlantic flight, and hasn't smoked since. I've only heard good things about it. I wish you luck.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:28 PM on March 4, 2011

Me and my friends have extensive experience with this and we all agree on two things: One, it works for sure and two it works exactly and only once. If you ever smoke another cigarette again, it will not work a second time.
posted by digitalprimate at 1:31 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, hey, nothing works for everybody. My story is, I smoked for 20 years (and was subjected to a shocking amount of second-hand smoke in the 18 years prior, which means that I had never known a life without some amount of nicotine). I had tried everything, and pretty much given up all hope of ever being able to quit.

After I ran across a thread where the Mefi Easyway Cabal had taken up the cause again, I decided to give it a shot. What the hell.

I read the book, and quit that night. I lasted about a week before I started smoking again.

I gave myself a month, during which I re-read the book. More closely this time. More thoughtfully. I read only a few pages at a time, and after reading them, I would close the book and think about it for a little while.

After I finished the book for the second time, I quit again. That was October of 2009, and here we are. (In the time since then, I've learned that it's common for people to take a "practice run" before they really quit using the Easyway method.)

I can't promise that "I'll never smoke again." I don't even try to make that promise to myself. Because who knows what the future may hold?

It's okay to be anxious about quitting. To not be ready to let go quite yet (thus your use of nicotine gum). But trust me, letting go - quitting cold turkey - really is the best way to do it. Believe it or not, it's the quitting method that involves the least misery.

(That's not what the Nicorette manufacturers want you to believe, of course. Then again, they have a vested financial interest in you not quitting. Can you really believe their claims?)

Try it again. You can do it, I know you can. I believe in you!
posted by ErikaB at 1:31 PM on March 4, 2011

It only "works" if you really want to quit.
posted by monospace at 1:37 PM on March 4, 2011

I didn't read his book in its entirety, but something he said finally made something "click" in my brain, and I quit smoking 2 years ago, and have never looked back.

He said something along the lines of that when you're smoking, you're in a constant state of withdrawal. As soon as you finish a cig, your body starts withdrawing, and that's why you feel like such crap. He is a proponent of COLD TURKEY, and for me, COLD TURKEY was the only thing that worked (after 10-15 attempts using step down methods). As soon as you give your body another "hit," whether it's a smoke, gum, patch, whatever, your body starts the process of trying to withdraw all over again. This is why people fail so much using step-down methods.

So yeah, understanding how my body was processing the chemicals and understanding "withdrawal" helped me immensely! Also pouring over millions of MF threads about quitting, going on every "cold turkey" website imaginable, etc... helped keep my mind off wanting a smoke, and on quitting.

It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life at the time, and I was pretty sure that I was going to kill someone on day 3, but I got through it, and I feel like a million bucks now!

posted by katypickle at 1:46 PM on March 4, 2011

Dear god yes it works. I was a smoker for 18 years, and after reading Carr's book I quit cold turkey. That was 2 1/2 years ago, and I haven't smoked since. Not only that, I haven't even wanted to smoke! I'm f'ing cured!

I think the reason his method works is twofold :
1) He methodically goes through all the reasons smokers have for smoking and debunks each one
2) His urging you to quit cold-turkey, but ONLY after you're done reading the book

#2 is really important. Gradual approaches NEVER work, and as he mentioned, they really only drag out the pain. Also, waiting until you're done reading the book is part of the magic. For me, it was like this : I would be reading his book, reading about why smoking is awful and unnecessary ... but then I'd have to put down the book and go out for a cigarette. After a while of this, I couldn't wait to finally quit. When I finished the book, I can't tell you how relieved I was to throw out my cigarettes.

This book has helped LOTS AND LOTS of people. Any time people talk about how a book helped them quit, they're pretty much always talking about this one. Have you noticed that it has a five star rating on, with 700 reviews? Can you think of any other book that has that?
posted by Afroblanco at 2:02 PM on March 4, 2011

(ack, bad link. Here's the real one)
posted by Afroblanco at 2:05 PM on March 4, 2011

It works, and it doesn't work. It's helped me to quit several times but I often relapse (but I'm currently 1 month and 19 days quit).

I do repeat the pithy (yet generally true) statements to myself and to my boyfriend (who quit at the same time as I did) to kind of break us from the craving mindset (no, it won't make you feel better, no, it's not going to taste good, etc) but you have to kind of accept that it's silly and cliched and if you're cynical it's not going to help.

Also you totally have to quit cold turkey. Otherwise it's SO EASY to just say, "Well there's still nicotine in my system so I might as well just have a cigarette". If you go cold turkey then it's like, "Oh man, I haven't had nicotine in ___ days and I don't wanna screw that up because I'll feel like poop again".

But I will disagree with Mr Carr and say that something to fiddle with is completely necessary. For me, it's an electronic cigarette with 0mg nicotine juice. I'd be lost without it.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:08 PM on March 4, 2011

Response by poster: monospace - I definitely do, but there is a point at which you've failed at quitting so many times that it just seems ridiculous.

katypickle - I agree, I think I'm going to switch to straight up gum (b/c I am still super orally fixated) after I'm all the way through the book - I'm still 50 pages short of finishing it. Conceiving it as an addiction to a drug has, as opposed to something you do because you like it or because you're too weak-willed, has been really helpful, somehow. I think a big part of the reason for past relapsed was the feeling that I was really missing out.

Thanks for the comments, folks!
posted by ktpetals at 2:08 PM on March 4, 2011

Failed at quitting so many times? That would be me. I quit every season (sometimes more often) for 10 years = at least 40 times. Some of the quits held on a while, some not so much. I read nearly every quit smoking book published at the time, tried gum, cold turkey, patches and hypnotism.

I've been quit more than 4 years now and this all sounds very zen, but it doesn't really matter what approach you take, because the quit comes from within. Here are my simple tips for staying quit:

This is the big one
Trust your decision to quit and don't argue with it. When your mind suggests a cigarette, go meh, I decided not to. Do not under any circumstances consider, well, if I have just one, I'll know how bad they are, and that will make me want to quit more. Or, I'll just smoke at Charlie's party, cos everyone there will be smoking and it'd be really hard to stay quit. At the very worst of times when your insides are screaming for nicotine, scream back (but just in your skull) "no!" (I did not experience any just say no campaigns, this is my own work).

The little things but just as important
I found it helpful to avoid smokers; to stop drinking for a significant period so that I wouldn't want to smoke; to substitute water for when I would have had a cigarette; to exercise more; to really be clear on the reasons why I wanted to quit: $, health.

Finally, it's easy to remind yourself how tough it is, tougher than quitting heroine we're told. How hard it is for yourself, and how your creativity is sapped, and you're miserable all the time, and you have to die of something, don't you? Well, that's all bullshit. It's selfpity, you know it, and I know it, and you don't need to indulge in that. Go back to step 1.

One last place where people will constantly tell you what you need to hear without getting sick of it is an online forum where people are quitting.
posted by b33j at 2:23 PM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think a big part of the reason for past relapsed was the feeling that I was really missing out.

As I mentioned, one of the most helpful parts of the book is where he debunks the most common reasons for smoking. Different parts of the book will speak to different people, depending on what their personal reasons are. What got me was his explanation of why smoking isn't actually enjoyable. I always saw it as an enjoyable habit -- an indulgence. When really, what I was feeling was momentary relief from nicotine withdrawal. He compared it to wearing tight, uncomfortable shoes so that your feet will feel good when you take them off.

Now when I think back to my former smoking habit, all I remember is having really bad breath and CONSTANTLY needing a cigarette.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:25 PM on March 4, 2011

It absolutely worked for a few friends of mine, people who had tried many other ways to quit.
posted by statolith at 2:58 PM on March 4, 2011

It worked for me. I smoked about a pack and a half of cigarettes a day for 30+ years. I tried nicotine replacements, Nicotine Anonymous, and a program run by the American Lung Association. None of those worked for me. I read the stupid book and I haven't had a cigarette in over 10 months. I gave my book to a friend and it did not help her at all. I don't know if it will work for you or not. I do know that I am grateful every time I see someone standing outside smoking that I paid the $10 for the book and tried the program.
posted by calumet43 at 3:03 PM on March 4, 2011

Like katypickle, I didn't finish the book, but I did glean some nuggets of wisdom from it. It just too much of a sales pitch to me. I wish he had spent less time trying to convince me how awesome it was (I mean...I already bought it pal). However, the smoking-as-drug-addiction idea and his rap about how we trick ourselves into thinking we're deprived without nicotine when actually it is then that we're free - I credit that with my quitting cold turkey a few months after the partial reading. Nine months without a drag and counting.

Regardless, you can do this, and it's fucking awesome.
posted by Roman Graves at 3:09 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

It works if you work it. It's not magic. If you're ready to quit, and you're willing to keep up the inner talk to stay quit, the book gives you a congnitive reset that can help you quit. But if you start undermining yourself, secretly harboring cravings and telling yourself how great smoking is, you can set yourself up for a relapse.

One thing that really helped me was noticing when I saw people smoking and caught myself thinking "ohh that looks so nice, what a treat, what a pleasure..." I would firmly reset my mind by remembering the compulsion, the stink, the short breath, the social ostracism, and thinking "Thank god I don't have to do THAT anymore!"

Another thing that helped was reading somewhere that most people try seven times before they stay quit. When I slipped up, I reframed it as part of the process of quitting smoking. That made it easier to jump back on the wagon before it moved too far on down the trail, rather than using a slip as an excuse to start smoking again.

As b33j said, the quit comes from within. It's not up to the book -- it's up to you.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:18 PM on March 4, 2011

I've been quit now for over ten years. Most of the time I forget I ever smoked in the first place. It's only things like this that remind me. So yes, it's perfectly possible to be 'a happy ex-smoker'.

I read the book before trying to quit for the first time but failed after a couple of weeks. Looking back I think I put too much pressure on myself to succeed and didn't do all the advice I had the 'odd one' and had too many crutches - (ordinary) gum for a start.

It took me several more attempts before I finally quit for good. It seemed to get a bit easier over time. I was off and on for a while, only while drank etc. The final time wasn't like I really quit, just walked away from them and had no withdrawal at all. I think it helped that I moved at the same time - I've heard a lot of people quit on holiday.

So the book didn't work for me first time around but I think it definitely shifted something in my mind set that started me down the road.

Another thing that helped which I don't think is in the book, but something I heard later is that if you have been addicted to something and then quit then the time it takes to get addicted again is drastically shorted compared to the time it took to get addicted in the first place. So what starts as just 'one or two' very soon becomes 20 a day again.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:19 PM on March 4, 2011

It worked for me! And given the other crap that was going on in my life at the time, it's a goddamned miracle that anything worked at all, I was pretty stressed out and depressed. Quitting really helped me climb out of that depression - it made me feel strong and capable, and made a big difference in my self-image.

For what it's worth, I think the sales pitch stuff is actually really important to the book's function. It's important that you relinquish your perceived authority about smoking and why you do it (how many smokers say "I know a hell of a lot more about smoking than that non-smoker, he doesn't understand" in order to write off the idea of quitting?) so that you can step back and re-evaluate your behavior without also having to admit that you were stupid for smoking for so long. He says that this fear of admitting we've acted stupidly in smoking is a large part of why it's so hard to quit, and I would agree (I'm really stubborn and hate, hate, hate being wrong, and I can see how that contributed to my continuing to smoke). People tend to get extremely defensive about smoking, so he has to go way out of his way to gain their trust.
posted by dialetheia at 3:23 PM on March 4, 2011

He said something along the lines of that when you're smoking, you're in a constant state of withdrawal. As soon as you finish a cig, your body starts withdrawing, and that's why you feel like such crap. He is a proponent of COLD TURKEY, and for me, COLD TURKEY was the only thing that worked (after 10-15 attempts using step down methods). As soon as you give your body another "hit," whether it's a smoke, gum, patch, whatever, your body starts the process of trying to withdraw all over again. This is why people fail so much using step-down methods.

This is true.

However, for many people, the habit is more powerful than the addiction. Using the patch while you break the habit worked for me, quite well. I was happier than a pig in shit with the patches, so I was able to enjoy breaking myself of the habit. (Including the weird ones, like freaking out if I was nearing running out. Half of addiction is maintaining supply.) Then, you break the nicotine addiction. Which is fairly easy to do, especially if you have stepped down.

Nicotine receptors are tricky little fuckers, and have long memories. When they are "hungry", they will play all kinds of mind tricks on you to think you need to smoke. Just remember it is a figment of your brain and drink a glass of water.

But for many people, it is folly to try and quit smoking thinking it is just about nicotine. It almost always isn't.
posted by gjc at 3:49 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

it works for sure and two it works exactly and only once. If you ever smoke another cigarette again, it will not work a second time.

Kinda silly, possibly harmful addiction schema. I haven't read the book in question, if this is it's opinion I would advise avoiding it. I've quit smoking a couple times and observed addictive processes in others, this sort of all-or-nothing approach is unrealistic and can lead to a fatalistic predilection to addiction.

You can quit as many times as you want, but if you buy a pack it will be hard to not smoke the whole pack and also difficult to not buy another.

There're two parts: 1. getting through the initial withdrawal and acute craving period (perhaps 3-6 months) then 2. avoiding relapse in the more insidious periodic trigger-based craving phase (time depends on efficacy of replacement coping techniques).

If someone gives you a cigarette, this functions as a trigger. Just like other things that might be triggers for you such as stress, alcohol, etc. you can elect to not go ahead and purchase a pack of cigarettes (or bum additional cigarettes) afterward.

If you realize this, you can actively work to stay quit by understanding the dynamic you'll engage if you buy or are given cigarettes.

You might even be able to moderate your intake, but you should probably get some good practice at using other coping techniques for your triggers before you even try.

Enlisting professional aid in adopting new coping techniques is likely to help.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 4:18 PM on March 4, 2011

I think you owe it to yourself to buy a physical copy of the book. When I quit with Easy Way (the book is so powerful that the first time I started reading it I stopped after 30 pages or so because I knew it would make me quit and that made me scared!) I kept the physical copy of the book and highlighted the sections that resonated the most with me. Although I'm not really conscious of it, from time to time I will look over a paragraph I've highlighted and it will fill me with joy and delight that I've moved on. If quitting smoking is important to you, and the book has already struck somewhat of a chord with you, then buying a physical copy will give it much more weight than reading it on your computer.
posted by fantasticninety at 4:56 PM on March 4, 2011

I agree with most of the above, though I quit after reading Easy Way and later started again. :(

The book does read like a cheesy self-help book--all those all-caps and redundant points--but really, Carr hits it on the head why we smoke and what needs to change in order to stop. It is very persuasive.

The part noted above about how nicotine creates a need for itself isn't a new definition of addiction, but somehow it helps to think of it that way. When I was quit, and I craved "just one," I would think of smoking that one not in terms of a one-time satisfaction, but like it would be creating a hole in me that could only be filled by a second cig. And so on and on. And then I just wouldn't want to smoke that first one.

This is, btw, one of the few sane things I've thought Charlie Sheen has said in some of his recent rants (whether he'd actually clean or not), re: addiction. He's said something like, "it's easy. You close your eyes, you change your mind. You don't do it anymore. You stop having that conversation in your head."

And I think there IS something to that. Somehow cutting off the conversation in your head, "should I or shouldn't I" and just... quitting. Cold turkey: that's it, it's over.

(I'm no poster child for this, for sure, but I have experience with addiction and this has worked for me for some lengths of time. I mean, it's worked to get off the substance abuse to start with. I've just been stupid enough, after some time, to think I could handle it again.)

Enough about me.... BEST of luck to you; stick with it!
posted by torticat at 7:04 PM on March 4, 2011

« Older Whither my perfect jeans?   |   What to do about a starving, stray dog? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.