It’s nice when medical opinion catches up with mine. For years I have questioned the use of public funding for smoking cessation—for Medicaid and Medicare patients, for prisoners and various minority populations and those in the bottom quintile. It seemed a sop to the pharmaceutical companies, social workers and various cessation gurus. With no great research on my part I noticed that although I know many former smokers—perhaps a hundred or so—not one of them quit using a drug or group support or counseling method. The two closest were my father, who quit at 39 when he began spitting up blood from his coughing and lived to 89, and my father-in-law who quit when he reached for his third pack of the day and lived to be 93. Both quit cold turkey. Two of my father’s brothers, Russell and John, and one of his sisters, Gladys, did not quit, developed cancer and died painful deaths. My father-in-law’s wife, Rosie, died many years before her husband; she didn’t stop smoking and developed lung cancer. I couldn’t begin to count the people my age that I know who are former smokers, including brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law. I know one man who used God—he says he challenged God, if he were real, to take away his desire to smoke. Poof, it was gone, and he stopped. He became a believer—in God. I know a few who became desperately ill, heart disease, COPD, stroke or cancer, and then stopped—and you can call it fear, but it was sheer will power. Their lives, although extended, were shorted by the years of foolishness and addiction.
A 2013 Gallup Poll of former smokers showed only 8% attributed their success to nicotine replacement therapy—gum, NRT patches—or prescription drugs. 56% credited “cold turkey,” “will power,” or “mind over matter.” In other words, they decided to kick the filthy, health killing habit. As a non-smoker, I am thrilled I can go into a restaurant or public event, and not leave smelling like a gambling casino of the 1950s. However, there was a dramatic drop in smoking among Americans after the 1950 report linking tobacco and cancer, from 7.7 million former smokers in 1955 to 19.2 million in 1964, to 36.2 million in 1979. This was before the anti-smoking campaigns, the laws, and the drugs. Researchers could clearly see and puzzle over the success rate of these people, but chose to go the “assisted” route to find the perfect drug or program.
In my opinion, except for those unfortunate enough to have been mainlined nicotine in the womb, the vast majority of smokers pick up the habit through choice and social influence. And that’s the way to quit. Just do it, and don’t hang around with smokers.