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The Secret to Quitting Smoking

by John R. Polito, founder of WhyQuit and author of "Freedom from Nicotine - The Journey Home"
Sadly, millions of smokers are being intentionally deprived of the most important quit smoking lesson of all, that nicotine dependency recovery is one of the few challenges in life where being 99% successful all but assures 100% defeat.

smokerMost quit smoking authorities teach that it takes a specified number of failed quitting attempts before the average smoker succeeds. What they fail to reveal is the precise lesson eventually learned, so that years of trial and error can be avoided. Joel Spitzer isn't one of them. A thirty-year full-time Chicago smoking cessation counselor, Spitzer calls it the "Law of Addiction," that just one powerful puff of nicotine is all it takes to foster relapse and destroy a quitting attempt.

Within 72 hours of ending all nicotine use the body and mind are nicotine-clean and withdrawal has peaked in intensity. The lesson eventually gleaned from the school of hard-quitting-knocks is that there is a bright line in the sand which says, "if I smoke just one cigarette I'll be throwing all my hard work out the window. I'll smoke another. I'll either end up back at the starting line enduring another 72 hours of nicotine withdrawal and detox, or accept the fact that I'm again a full-fledged smoker."

Although Spitzer's insights flow from and are confirmed by the more than 350 six-session two-week quitting clinics he has conducted since 1976, his clinical observations are backed by research. A 1990 study entitled "Postcessation Cigarette Use: The Process of Relapse" found that 93.5% who lapsed and "tasted" one cigarette during the first three months of quitting went on to experience full relapse to smoking.

Published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, the study found that nearly half (46.7%) who lapsed smoked a second cigarette within 24 hours of the first, that one in five (20.7%) smoked it within an hour, but that the average time between smoking the first and second cigarette was 9 days. Interestingly, the study also found that nearly half of lapses occurred after drinking alcohol.

Recent research has found that the brain's dopamine pathways not only produce a powerful dopamine "aaah" sensation in response to nicotine's arrival but record the associated smoking event and "aaah" in high definition memory, what researchers call "pay attention," "survival" or "salient" memories. While most memory disorders involve an inability to remember, nicotine dependency is about remembering too well - an inability to forget.

But both formal and informal discovery and mastery of the "Law of Addiction" has become increasingly difficult. In June 2000 the U.S. government turned its back on nicotine cessation by adopting a policy advocating nicotine replacement or bupropion use by all quitters unless pregnant, underage or possibly due to other health considerations. Doing so instantly destroyed the standing, credibility and backing of nearly all nicotine cessation programs.

Amazingly, the U.S. Public Health Service continues to actively discourage nicotine cessation, the quitting method it admits is responsible for producing nearly 90% of all long-term successful quitters, a finding confirmed by a 2006 Australian study. Instead it teaches those dependent upon nicotine that replacing nicotine is key to quitting, that nicotine is medicine and its use therapy, lessons that obviously interfere with and muddy a natural learning process.

Although each new magic pharmaceutical cure has promised to at least double cessation rates, the latest being Chantix or Champix (both varenicline) it simply has not happened. In October the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was forced to report that the U.S. smoking rate had failed to decline for the first time since 1997. What the CDC fails to realize is that although allowing pharmaceutical influence to write U.S. cessation policy has been highly profitable for the pharmaceutical industry it is damaging natural learning of the "Law of Addiction."

What the CDC continues to keep secret is that although replacement nicotine performed twice as well as placebo inside randomized clinical trials, that it has never prevailed over those quitting without it in any real-world performance survey conducted to date (California, Minnesota, Quebec, London, Western Maryland, U.K., and Australia). What it keeps secret is that just 7% of over-the-counter NRT users are still not smoking at six months and the success rate for second time users is near 0%.

Since June 2000 Joel Spitzer has served as education director at WhyQuit, one of the last surviving nicotine cessation programs. There Spitzer teaches all new arrivals the Law of Addiction, that their first quitting attempt can be their last so long as they make and stick to a personal commitment to ... just one day at a time, Never Take Another Puff!

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Written 01/07/07 and page reformatted 06/25/18 by John R. Polito