Smoking: Why is it so hard to quit?

James Tobin takes a look at the psychological and physical reasons people smoke and the reasons it’s so difficult to quit.

In 2016, around 14 per cent of people aged 18 years and over, smoked.

“Humans are creatures of habits and smoking is one of those habits that is still prevalent in society today,” James says.

“While the numbers have been on the decline, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare alarmingly they’ve now plateaued here, bucking the trend of most other countries.”

Smokers crave a nicotine high

According to Tobacco Treatment Specialist Dr Colin Mendelsohn, the main driver for continued addiction is withdrawal from nicotine.

“When smokers don’t have a cigarette for a while they miss it because their brain is saying where’s my nicotine, I need it to function properly,” Dr Mendelsohn says.

At the same time, he adds, the physical act of smoking becomes something our brain craves.

In 2018 the argument against smoking is irrefutable. “Tobacco smoke contains over 70 chemicals which cause cancer,” James says.

With just over 24 per cent of Australians having managed to quit during their lifetime, how have they actually done it?

Different methods for quitting smoking

Surprisingly, just stopping, also known as cold turkey, is the most common way people stop smoking.

Although alternative methods are gaining popularity, including:

  • Hypnotherapy – which works with the subconscious to weaken the desire to smoke; and
  • Acupuncture – focusing on specific energy points aimed at reducing withdrawal symptoms.

Catharine Ross is a certified EFT practitioner who employs a therapy known as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to help clients remove any emotional blocks to success, using her fingers to tap on various points on the face and upper body.

“Because an addiction to smoking is underpinned by anxiety, when we’re actually tapping we’re helping to reprogram the brain’s longer term memory to recognise that whatever it is that is causing us stress is no longer a threat,” she reveals.

Science based therapies

Science based nicotine replacement therapies like patches, chewing gum and tablets, which work to minimise people’s physical discomfort, are also widespread.

“According to the Australian Health Department these have the potential to increase a smoker’s chance of quitting by 200 per cent,” James reports.

Whichever method is employed, Dr Mendelsohn encourages those trying to give up: “Most smokers who succeed have tried and failed a number of times, but each time you try you do learn something and it gets easier over time.”

Helpful tips to quit smoking:

  • Weigh up pros and cons – write a list
  • Keep a smoking diary – write down times, cravings
  • Stop smoking at home and in the car
  • Change your lifestyle – take up a new hobby, sport, or be more social
  • Exercise – reduces cravings, provides stress relief, combats weight gain, prevents relapse, as well as other health benefits
  • Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake
  • Set yourself rewards
  • Start any stop smoking medication
  • Set a quit day

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more from Zoe, Ed, and the team.