Monday, September 30, 2013

"You gotta die of something, might as well be something you enjoy"

After looking at my name tag, a man asked if I was the same VJ who used to go stop smoking classes. When I answered  yes, he said, "You saved my life."

Elliot had been a three pack a day smoker when he took attended a stop smoking workshop I did in January 1993. He smoked three packs a day and needed heart surgery and they were going to amputate his leg due to lack of circulation. His doctor wouldn't operate until Elliot quit smoking, so he was at the class so he could quit long enough to have his surgery and then Elliot fully expected to return to his beloved cigarettes.

"Do you remember what you said me all those years ago?" he asked.

"Yes, you told me, "You gotta die of something" and I told you, "Yes, but yours would be a long slow painful death as they just keep cutting parts off of you."

Elliot said he never forgot those words. He quit, had his surgery and was able to keep his leg. Twenty years later he knows he would not be here today if he had continued to smoke. He has married, has been traveling the world and started making pottery. He looks at all the wonderful things in his life today that smoking would have deprived him.

The lesson is not look at what you are giving up, Elliot loved smoking, but look at what you might miss out by not living so long; plus how do you want to live your last years of life? Disabled from smoking or healthy and enjoying life?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Hidden danger of e-cigarettes

At a recent social event a man seated next to me pulled an e-cig out of his pocket he said, "I hope you don't mind, but this isn't a real cigarette, it's only vapor."
"I guess you don't know what I do for a living?" was my response.
Steve had quit smoking 15 years ago. He had smoked two packs a day and quit cold turkey. Now he was using 8 to 10 cartridges a day in his e-cig.
When I asked why he started using the e-cigarette after having quit smoking so long ago, his answer was-- curiosity. But now Steve is hooked on nicotine again and spending up to $150 a week.
Some people in tobacco control have been endorsing e-cigarettes as "harm reduction" which is when a smoker, who either can't or won't quit smoking, switches to an e-cigarette because it is "less harmful" than smoking regular cigarettes. But for Steve this isn't about reducing his need to smoke but re-starting his addiction to nicotine and someone is making a lot of money off of Steve's addiction.
E-cigarettes are big business, expected to generate $1 to 2 Billion in sales in 2013. The tobacco companies are adding e-cigs to their list of products. But could it be that since over half of all smokers have quit, that a new marketplace is opening up? Former smokers who can be lured back into nicotine addiction with e-cigarettes and teens who would never think of lighting up a cigarette but don't see an e-cigarette as anything but a fad to try.
So while the rate of smoking has been declining over the years and we have made great strides in preventing teens from starting, I think the real hidden danger of e-cigarettes is that we will be seeing a rise in the number of nicotine addicts. Since few double blind studies have been done and currently there are no one regulating the manufacture and marketing of e-cigarettes, is this the next tobacco epidemic or will nicotine be just another "harmless" addiction like caffeine?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The ultimate way to increase your willpower to stop smoking forever

Zelda became fast friends with Mary another smoker when they both became members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).  CORE is a civil rights organization which helped organize the March on Washington and ended with Martin Luther King giving his famous "I have a dream" speech. 

After smoking for 30 years Zelda and Mary decided to quit together. While it was difficult, Mary was successful but Zelda was not. Like many smokers, over the years she tried many times to quit but her willpower was not stronger than the temptation to smoke. 

Years later they met up again at conference and Mary said, "Why are you still smoking?"

Zelda didn't have a good answer but Mary's words haunted her for the next few days. When she drove Mary to the airport, Zelda turned to her and said, "If I ever smoke again, I'll write a check for $5000 to the Klu Klux Klan."

She quit cold turkey right then and every time she was tempted to smoke a cigarette, she thought of writing that check to the KKK which was such an abhorrent thought that she never smoked again.
Click here to hear Zelda's story

Zelda gave herself no way out of this deal. This type of action is called a "pre-commitment" which involves making a binding agreement with a huge cost if a temptation is acted upon. Neuroimaging studies on the brain are now showing how pre-commitment is different than willpower and uses different parts of the brain. Click here to read about it.

As any smoker who has tried to quit knows, using willpower alone makes it almost impossible to resist temptation when it pops up. Even with the best of intentions and having good reasons to quit, the long term benefits of becoming smoke-free are not strong enough to overcome that immediate pleasure of smoking a cigarette. Willpower breaks down when an immediate temptation creates that strong impulse or craving to act now by smoking.

Using a functional MRI, we can now see how pre-commitment can help in staying smoke-free. Our brains have a memory and a smoker's brain may recognize that in past experiences willpower has failed to resist temptation and that failure is repeated when faced with a new temptation. But when a smoker has made a pre-commitment and is tempted to smoke, a different part of the brain is used which eliminates this short term temptation. A pre-commitment, or a binding choice becomes an alternative to willpower.

So the trick is to make a deal with yourself that is so horrible that you will do anything to avoid it and tie that commitment to the act of smoking, like Zelda did by imagining writing a $5000 check to the KKK if she smoked even one cigarette.

What deal will you make with yourself? Make the decision to follow through if you do smoke and stick to it. Give yourself no way out. Making a pre-commitment may be all you need to stay smoke-free forever.