Stopping smoking the easy way

Cigarette smoking is generally unhealthy, and smokers who stop are usually taking a big step forward in enhancing their health and decreasing disease risk in the long term. However, stopping smoking is not always a bed of roses. First of all, some people struggle with withdrawal symptoms. And many individuals find that stopping smoking can trigger an un welcome gain weight.

Today, I came across a study that assessed health in smokers, never-smokers and ex-smokers [1]. The presence of metabolic syndrome was addressed, as was the levels of visceral fat (fat in and around the abdominal organs) and subcutaneous fat (fat under the skin). Overall, metabolic syndrome was found to be more common in ex-smokers compared to current smokers and never-smokers. They tended to have higher levels of visceral and subcutaneous fat too.

This study was epidemiological in nature, which means we cannot use it to conclude that stopping smoking leads to worsening health in terms of fat levels and risk of metabolic syndrome. However, fat accumulation after stopping smoking is a common experience, and it seems likely that the obvious benefits of stopping smoking may be somewhat offset by changes in fat levels, particularly with regard to visceral fat.

I am an ex-smoker, having started this habit at the age of 13. By the age of 14 I smoked regularly, usually 3 or 4 cigarettes a day. By the time I stopped for good, I was smoking about 30 cigarettes a day.

I did have a fair few attempts at stopping smoking prior to me nailing it (back in 1987). Here’s what I remember about these attempts:

  • terrible withdrawal symptoms that meant I would spend much of the day fantasising about cigarettes.
  • withdrawal symptoms that would lasted for many weeks before I caved in and started smoking again.
  • a voracious appetite, to the extent that I felt what seemed like permanent hunger, no matter how much I ate.

Yesterday marked the 24th anniversary of me stopping smoking. I wrote about this four years ago here. While stopping smoking had some challenges for me at this time, what I recollect was that the withdrawal symptoms were relatively mild and short-lived, and I don’t remember any increase in appetite. Yet, I was withdrawing from a 30-a-day habit. Paradoxically, this was so much easier than quitting a 3- or 5-a-day habit in my teens. When I finally stopped, I did not use any form of nicotine replacement either. So why the difference?

I’ll never know for sure, but I think a lot of it had to do with the book I read which sparked my stopping. The book – The Easy Way to Stop Smoking by Allen Carr – takes a largely psychological approach to kicking the habit. I only read the book in its entirety once, but I still remember aspects of it. Part of the reason for this is that the book is quite repetitive – and it needs to be to break down some of the mental barriers some of us to stopping.

The crux of the book, as I remember it, is that many of us attempt to stop smoking expecting it to be hell and expecting also to miss ‘positive’ aspects of smoking such as certain social aspects of smoking and how we might feel bereft of a cigarette when drinking alcohol or coffee, or after a meal. The book encourages the reader to take a positive attitude to stopping smoking, by concentrating on all the ‘good’ things about not smoking such as the freedom it brings, enhanced health, increased self-esteem or whatever. The book also makes the point that if you don’t feel you’re missing something by not smoking, there’s less tendency to ‘replace’ cigarettes with something else (like food).

I have no idea if this thinking made the difference when I finally stopped smoking for good, but I have a feeling it had a lot to do with it. And to this day, when talking to people about stopping smoking, I almost always suggest two things:

  1. getting one’s mind in the right place – particularly focusing on the positive aspects of stopping smoking
  2. reading Allen Carr’s book

24 years after stopping smoking I’m still advocating Carr’s book and the mental approach it encourages. I have seen many individuals use this book to get free of cigarettes. Not just free of smoking, but mentally free of the habit too.


1. Matsushita Y, et al. Associations of Smoking Cessation With Visceral Fat Area and Prevalence of Metabolic Syndrome in Men: The Hitachi Health Study. Obesity 2011;19(3):647–651

12 Responses to Stopping smoking the easy way

  1. Kris @ Health Blog 22 March 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    I quit smoking about four and a half years ago myself, I agree that the psychological factor is the most important part, the physical withdrawal is not that bad.

    What I did was read up on smoking and how nicotine affects the brain, mostly from the website which has a lot of resources. I’m sure it helped a lot.

  2. Sam 23 March 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    When I stubbed out my last cigarette (after reading Alan Carr)I thought I had an easy, exciting day at work organised. But it was a terrible day, with all sorts of things going on, so I ended up being unexpectedly stressed. The next day (my second day off the cigs) was much easier at work and less stressful, and I realised I had cracked it.

    So my advice is Alan Carr + give up on a stressful, difficult day.

  3. Donald Galfond 23 March 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    Dr. Briffa,

    Is there any reliable information about what percentage of smokers get lung cancer?

  4. John Briffa 24 March 2011 at 8:57 am #

    Hi Donald

    I don’t have any data on this, but I belive the following things are true:

    1. the majority of lung cancers appear to be caused by smoking

    2. the majority of smokers do not get lung cancer

  5. John Vickers 25 March 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    Great post!

    I stopped smoking about 4 years ago, also reading the Allan Carr book. I tried stopping through other methods (audio hypnosis, patches, gum etc), but I felt that a) I was still addicted to nicotine and b) still spending a fortune on a habit. I was spending lots of money on aftershave, clothes etc to create a good impression, but the first thing a prospective client would think is: I can smell cigarette smoke, he’s a smoker.

    The book worked a treat! I went out the following evening to the smokiest pub in London with a friend for a few pints, I didn’t even think about smoking, let alone wish for a cig.

    I am going to be running my first marathon in a couple of weeks, this would never have been possible if I was still smoking 20-30 a day. Who would have thought smoking would be so easy to stop with just a change of thinking?

  6. Chris Ellul 25 March 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    Great post!

    I quit smoking about 40 a day at one of my best friends wedding in 1999 by convincing myself that my body does not ‘need a cigarette’. There is a common misconception among smokers that they need a cigarette, which is purely psychological rather than physical.

    I also used the approach of telling people who offered me a cigarette, ‘I don’t smoke’ as opposed to ‘I stopped smoking’. I know it is a technicality but I found it helped and discouraged people to offer again.

  7. Megan 25 March 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    I gave up an almost chain-smoking habit ten years ago. I put off having a cigarette for 5 minutes and then another five until the minutes grew into years. I was amazed at how easy it was. I kept cigarettes and lighters on hand for years; had I thrown them away and made announcements to friends I’d have been rooting through the bin once the giving up euphoria had worn off. Having cigarettes near at hand yet choosing not to smoke them somehow diminished their power over me.

  8. Mike Salvino 26 March 2011 at 9:42 am #

    Briffa and Carr…..what a team!
    I quit smoking two years ago because of Carr and have lost 20 pounds since October because of Briffa…..
    I’m a happy guy.

  9. Roger Foxwell 26 March 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    Yes, Alan Carr’s book is really excellent and throws up lots of tips that seem so obvious but are usually completely missed when we are “trying to stop”. So much easier to do if you think of yourself as a non smoker rather than a smoker trying to quit. Jack Trimpey’s book Rational Recovery (deals with alcohol and drugs) also has some very good insights into addictive thinking and well worth a read.

  10. Linda Collier 27 March 2011 at 12:56 pm #


    It’s not only lung cancer that is associated with smoking, but also mouth and throat cancers. The incidence of these cancers is rising rapidly. The incidence of it occurring is even higher if youy drink alcohol as well as smoke. I worked with these in the NHS and many people did not realise that smoking was most often the cause of them.

  11. George 29 March 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    Allen Carr definetly made it easier for me. He says, you only gain weight if you use food and snacks to replace your smoking. Thats just what I did at my first attempt. At my second attempt (lasts to this day) I didn’t put food in where cigarettes used to be. I find it it’s easier to control myself when I eat.

  12. Ajana 30 March 2011 at 9:25 am #

    Did an Allen Carr seminar 15 years ago with a friend. Both of us couldn’t believe just how easy it was to stop smoking and we remain happy non-smokers to this day.

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