“Dear Abby’s” gobbledygook stop smoking advice


The word dear written over a photo of Westminster Abby

An obvious problem with advice columns such as “Dear Abby” is that, although extremely well-intended, when it comes to smoking cessation, being a “know-it-all” without “knowing-enough” is risky.

The July 30, 2022 “Dear Abby” advice column features a Michigan husband’s desperate plea for advice about helping his wife quit smoking, as her health is deteriorating and he’s considering divorce.

Abby’s response? That the wife clearly “CANNOT quit on her own” and that she will need “professional help.” “Nicotine patches and gum could aid her in cutting back, but a psychological component will still need to be addressed.” “[O]offer your wife the option of treatment. However, if she refuses, you will have to decide whether to consult a lawyer.”

Abby’s “failed quitter” diagnosis and gobbledygook replacement nicotine “cutting back” advice fits neatly within Australian Professor Simon Chapman’s new free ebookQuit smoking weapons of mass distraction.”

Chapman would caution Abby that decades of NRT and quitting medication advertising have conditioned smokers (and apparently advice column writers) to believe that quitting on your own is nearly impossible and that few succeed without “treatment,” when the exact opposite is the truth.

Clearly, the most critical review ever of the medicalization of smoking cessation, the former editor of the BMJ journal Tobacco Control presents obvious evidence that the vast majority of ex-smokers succeed without resort to professional treatment, most by going cold turkeyand that most generally find it substantially easier than anticipated.

As for Abby’s suggestion that nicotine patches and gum are effective, “There can be few if any other drugs, used for any purpose, which have even come close to the dismal success rate of e-cigarettes or NRT in achieving their main outcome,” Chapman writes.

“If we went along to a doctor for a health problem and were told, ‘Here, take this. It has a 90% failure rate. But let’s both agree to call this successful,’ we would understandably take the view that ‘success, ‘ when used in this context, was not the way that it is used in any other treatment context.”

The Babe Ruth of quitting, Chicago smoking cessation educator Joel Spitzer devoted five sets, nearly full-time, toward assisting smokers in quitting cold turkey. He’s in total agreement with Chapman’s replacement nicotine warnings.

A key 1984 lesson taught by Spitzer is entitled”Quitting for Others,” that quitting for your spouse or parent “inevitably” results in relapse. Why? Because quitting for others naturally fosters feelings of self-deprivation that ultimately result in smoking relapse.

The successful quitter’s primary motivation needs to focus on benefitting themselves. “Instead of feeling deprived of cigarettes, he will feel good about himself and appreciative to have been able to break free from such a dirty, deadly, powerful addiction,” Spitzer wrote.

So, having reviewed what doesn’t work, how does the distraught Michigan husband help his wife quit smoking and save their marriage?

It probably isn’t a coincidence that Spitzer wrote a related 1984 article entitled “How can I get my family and friends to quit smoking?There, he contends that the key isn’t threats, pestering, or insults, but your understanding, patience, love, and support.

Although both Chapman and Spitzer would tell you that it’s totally unnecessary in achieving success, support could include watching Spitzer’s basic quitting tips videoreading his free ebook “Never Take Another Puff,” or visiting Turkeyvillethe 15,000+ member cold turkey support group that features the core lessons flowing from Spitzer’s life’s work.

Thumbnail photo of John R. PolitoJohn R. Polito received his JD from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1985, where he graduated Wig & Robe. He is a former 3-pack-a-day thirty-year smoker and the 1999 founder of WhyQuit. A nicotine cessation educator since 2000, John mentored under Joel Spitzer for two decades, presenting more than 100 live nicotine dependency recovery programs modeled after Joel’s programs. He is the author of “Freedom from Nicotine – The Journey HomeSmart Turkey,” and 6 peer-reviewed journal articles. John is the founder and director of Turkeyville, a 15,000-member Facebook support group exclusively for cold turkey quitters. Email: [email protected]

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