Undaunted by a hammering of pharmaceutical industry marketing asserting that only superheroes can quit cold, a rising tide of nicotine stained keyboards are surfing their way to a vastly different message being shared by a rather serious forum.
(PRWEB) April 5, 2004-- The Internet's oldest website devoted to the art, science and psychology of taking the cold out of quitting smoking cold turkey recorded a record 2.1 million hits during March, a 318% increase over March 2003.
Founded in July 1999 as a hard-hitting motivational site encouraging younger smokers to quit and youth from starting, WhyQuit.com quickly evolved into the first online smoking cessation resource devoted exclusively to supporting the education and recovery needs of the nearly 90% of smokers quitting cold.
Still today, almost all government and health nonprofit websites continue to strongly advocate the purchase and use of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products while actually discouraging smokers from trusting their instincts and natural ability to stop using nicotine.
"It makes no sense," asserts John R. Polito, WhyQuit's Charleston, South Carolina founder and a thirty-year three-pack-a-day smoker who broke free in May 1999 with the aid of online peer support. "Although there is no denying that unassisted and uneducated cold turkey quitting generates just 10% abstinence at six months, health policymakers continue to turn their backs on millions of cold turkey quitters when they know that educating and supporting them could enhance their odds of success by roughly 400%."
In September 1999 Joanne Diehl, a January 1999 Chicago online quitter, joined forces with Polito in co-founding a free peer quitting support group called Freedom from Tobacco. It added a support arm to WhyQuit's growing array of gripping motivational stories.
Although the group gradually attracted a steady stream of quitters, "by December we were floundering horribly," recalls Diehl. "It seemed like all but a handful were relapsing, some four and five times in a row, and nicotine was everywhere."
"When a member posted their first message following relapse the outpouring of group attention and affection was so intense that it seemed to invite others to follow suit," recalls Polito. "Once the newness and excitement of being around other quitters began wearing off, our blend of motivation and support simply wasn't cutting it."
Demoralized, Polito and Diehl were on the verge of pulling the plug when an email arrived on January 20, 2000. It was from a Chicago never-smoker named Joel Spitzer offering the unconditional use of a collection of about eighty short clinic articles sharing the lessons gleaned during a lifetime spent working with and carefully observing thousands of successful quitters.
Polito and Diehl were about to discover that education and dependency understanding was not only a missing ingredient but vital to any hope of substantially enhancing a member's prospects for recovery.
Joel Spitzer's abrupt cessation insights likely started as early as 1972. It was then, as a volunteer smoking prevention speaker with the American Cancer Society, that he became increasingly consumed by the plight of those for whom prevention efforts had failed.
He would spend the next 28 years refining his own understanding while sharing key findings during 325 two-week quit smoking clinic programs and more than 570 education seminars that touched almost 100,000 lives.
As Polito fondly recalls, "it was as if Joel picked-up and cradled Joanne's bleeding heart and my dying spirit while feeding our ignorance a heavy dose of understanding. His insights were mind boggling." Central to Spitzer's teachings was the core philosophy of "just one day at a time" to "never take another puff."
With each passing day a bit more of Spitzer's work was shared with and embraced by the group. The timing and norms of physical withdrawal, subconscious trigger reconditioning, conscious thought fixation, understanding the emotional loss, nicotine as a spoon, avoiding blood sugar swings, the smoking dream, sleep disruption, weight gain, alcohol concerns, the nicotine/stress relationship, the arriving lessons seemed almost endless.
Affectionately dubbed "Joel's Library," the collection was given center stage at WhyQuit. Always on hand to address individual concerns, Spitzer agreed to become a forum manager and director of education.
Today Joel's Library has grown to about ninety articles, Freedom has amassed more than 200,000 archived and indexed member posts, and WhyQuit serves as a learning and motivation hub in helping churn-out thousands of highly educated ex-smokers around the globe.
"I spent the first five weeks of my quit at another quit smoking site," says Linda Schwartz, a Cleveland pharmacy manager who has doubled as Freedom's admissions director since 2000. "Too many silly topics unrelated to quitting and too many failed attempts where people did not really take quitting seriously brought me to Freedom."
"Our work evolved over time," recalls Spitzer. "As we gained more and more experience, we started to get a better sense of how to help people in a virtual world. We had our growth spurts and our growing pains."
Not only do new arrivals find a forum that is 100% nicotine free, they are not granted group posting privileges until all nicotine is out of their body (72 hours), and any relapse - even one puff of nicotine - permanently revokes group posting privileges.
"It sounds harsh," says Polito, "but addiction to smoking nicotine with its 50% adult kill rate is not a game. If we can't convince smokers of the importance of spending a few hours mastering the principles underlying their dependency then our chances of supporting their recovery are horrible."
"I attribute a healthy portion of our growth to other sites telling their members how out of our minds we must be for being proponents of cold turkey quitting, and how ridiculous it is for us to expect members to succeed and not relapse," says Spitzer. "Relapse must be taken seriously if quitting is to work."
According to Spitzer most professional literature ever produced on smoking cessation has advice in it with a variation of the statement "don't let a slip put you back to smoking." "Such advice makes as much sense as telling an alcoholic 'not to let a drink put you back to drinking,' or a heroin addict, 'don't let a little injection put you back to using,' or for a more graphic depiction, 'don't let unprotected sex with an HIV infected individual or a person with other kinds of sexually transmitted disease let you get pregnant or infected,'" says Spitzer.
How is the explosion in growth impacting the forum? "We now have so many long-term members providing support that my work is actually a little easier than it has been," asserts Spitzer. "I can disappear for hours or even days and when I return the articles and threads I would have referred new members to in order to address issues raised by their posts have already been shared by members."
"It seems we're getting more serious quitters -- people who are reading all that we have available, learning the messages and then sharing their time and understanding with other members," says Spitzer.
As a classroom, is there a limit to the forum's growth potential? "I think we'll continue to grow - at least in readership. If we let in too many new people at one time our educational message gets diluted. At times we have no choice but to limit admissions if we're to maintain quality in offering meaningful help to all who read here," says Spitzer.
In a sad sort of way governments and health nonprofits are helping keep WhyQuit's word-of-mouth growth manageable. "They're fully committed to NRT and their only means of increasing market share is to continue the relentless assault upon cold turkey," says Polito. "If OTC NRT was truly effective, it would be absurd to fault them for ignoring real nicotine cessation learning centers but sadly it isn't."
Although a rash of recent studies paint NRT in far less glowing terms than current product marketing, according to Polito their results are not being openly shared by those advocating its use.
A March 2003 study published in Tobacco Control combined and averaged the results of all seven over-the-counter patch and gum studies and found that only 7% of participants were still not smoking at six months.
"That's substantially lower than an uneducated and unassisted quitter's own natural odds of 10%," says Polito.
A November 2003 study, also in Tobacco Control, asserts that as many as 36.6% of all current nicotine gum users may be chronic long-term users of greater than six months.
Most recently, a January 2004 study published in Addiction outlined prior studies examining those attempting to quit by using the nicotine patch for a second attempt. Amazingly, in one study 0% of second time patch users succeeded while in the other only 1.6% were still not smoking at six months.
"A large percentage of smokers participated in NRT studies in hopes of getting months of free nicotine products," says Polito. "It's pure fiction to pretend that a significant portion could not sense that they'd been given a placebo instead. Admitted blinding failures, frustrated expectations, creative new definitions of quitting, it's a recipe to make billions selling nicotine to those dependent upon it."
One might think that if 91.2% of all successful quitters were quitting cold turkey that 91.2% of quitting resources would be devoted to sharing their secrets, practices and insights. "It doesn't work that way," says Polito. "Unless you're willing to hold hostage and charge for the knowledge needed to help smokers break free there is no money to be made in cold turkey quitting. It almost has to be a labor of love."
In the five-year history of WhyQuit not a single penny has ever been accepted from any source for any online work. "We've always told those who insist on making a donation to give to their favorite charity instead," says Spitzer. Even with Spitzer's articles and work having potential as a book, in his eyes the price is unacceptable.
"I would want it stipulated that the book could stay on the Internet for free distribution to all who wanted it," says Spitzer. "I'm not too sure how many publishers would be interested in taking on a book that the author was going to give away to as many people as humanly possible."
Thanks to Bill, one of Freedom's gold club members (a member who has remained nicotine free for at least one year) Joel's Library is already available at WhyQuit in electronic PDF book format. Distilled to its basics, quitting isn't necessarily easy but it is simple - just one day at a time ... Never Take Another Puff!