Home / The Thrive Programme / Smoking: Don’t Believe the Addiction Myth!

According to the Edinburgh Evening News:

One smoker is quitting every two hours in the Lothians after a record rush to quit the habit. Nearly a quarter of people still smoke in the region but we hope to drive that down towards zero. Driving smoking levels down by just one per cent in the Lothians would save 81 lives a year.

Dr Dermot Gorman, public health consultant for NHS Lothian, said giving up is never easy, but he was confident many will rise to the challenge.

“It’s a big ask because nicotine is highly addictive but we do have increasingly successful services that we’re very proud of, they are making a difference,” he said.

“There are lots of reasons why people have decided to stop smoking – it transforms lives and leaves more money in the pocket.

“The mixture of legislation, pricing and our services has really helped in recent years. A lot of people have also chosen to quit themselves and buy over-the-counter medication. But we still have some distance to go.”

Nearly 13,000 people have kicked the habit over the last three years – equating to two every hour – helping bring down smoking rate in the Lothians by 0.5 per cent a year.

In order to be classified as smoke free, smoking rates in the region need to come down to a fifth of the current level which sees about a quarter of adults smoke, and that is the ultimate aim.
Edinburgh Evening News

Is smoking addictive? What evidence is there that smoking is addictive?

In modern society, the addictiveness of smoking has been established as a ‘fact’; people talk of nicotine as a vastly addictive substance, placing the control onto the cigarettes rather than the smokers. Indeed, the word ‘addiction’ is thrown around readily in daily life. People declare that they are addicted to chocolate, or Facebook, or the latest show on Netflix, and yet we rarely take the time to consider what control we really do have over our actions and behaviours. We declare that something is ‘addictive’ in order to avoid thinking that we have weaknesses or even greed. Smoking is the biggest example of this. People ‘need’ to believe cigarettes are addictive to protect themselves from taking full responsibility for their actions. It’s not their fault that they have an expensive and harmful habit, but rather they are simply addicted and a victim of the cigarettes.

However, this belief in addiction makes it far harder for smokers to quit. Research has demonstrated that most smokers would like to quit smoking, and yet many believe that they cannot do so due to the strength of their addiction. They believe that quitting will just be too difficult. In one recent research study (Balmford et al., 2008), it was found that one third of smokers believed that they were too addicted to be able to quit smoking. Additionally, 75% of the participating smokers believed that they would not be able to quit any time they wanted.

The belief in the addictive qualities of smoking is not only unhelpful, but also entirely flawed: there is a large amount of evidence to suggest that smoking is not addictive. For example, one study of flight attendants on both long and short haul flights found that their cravings were related to the time remaining until the end of the flight, rather than to the time that had passed since their last cigarette or to the total length of the flight (i.e. the duration of abstinence) (Dar et al., 2010). This indicated that it was only when the end of the flight was approaching and the smokers began to fantasise about the upcoming opportunity to smoke, that their ‘cravings’ increased. Luik (1996) has declared that “In effect, the smoking is addictive claim is not science but what we have called elsewhere corrupted science- science that serves the ends of politics rather than the ends of truth.” The idea that the addictiveness of smoking has been proven is simply a myth, and an unhelpful myth at that.

By placing the control upon the cigarettes, and the addiction, people feel that they are, therefore, powerless. By that logic, they believe that they cannot change their behaviours, as we cannot change things over which we do not have control. However, though it may seem difficult, one must remember that no one forces anyone to pick up a cigarette and light it, the control is literally in your own hands. People don’t experience cravings because of an addiction, they create cravings by their thinking; their brooding and fantasising about smoking. The key to stopping smoking easily is to realise that you are in control of your thoughts and to then manage your thinking.

By taking control and realising that their beliefs and expectations about smoking and quitting are crucial to their experience of quitting, smokers can quit quickly and easily. The following tip for quitting is from my ‘Thrive as a Non-Smoker’ book, which teaches them the skills and resources that they need to become a non-smoker permanently.

The Reset Button – Take charge of your smoking habit!

The Reset Button is a psychological tool that will help you to take charge of your thinking, enabling you to rapidly recover when you are having a blip. It is about saying to yourself: “Right, that’s done, I’m moving on, starting again and resetting my attitude.” The Reset Button puts you back in the driving seat and allows you to choose HOW you want to react in a given situation. The Reset Button consists of 3 steps:

1. Recognise that you are brooding about smoking

2. Realise that you have created this state. Your desire to smoke is not down to an ‘addiction’. You are in control and can choose to stop brooding and fantasising about smoking.

3. Create a ‘Reset Attitude’. You can help yourself to achieve this by taking action, such as ‘escaping’ from the physical situation you are in (e.g. leave the room or get up from your chair), immersing yourself in other more constructive thoughts or behaviours, or spending time engaging in positive visualisation, thinking about your sense of achievement at becoming a non-smoker and all the benefits you are gaining.

More insights can be found in ‘Thrive as a non smoker’ – available on amazon.

Rob Kelly
Creator of the Thrive Programme