So you’ve decided this is the year you’ll really give up smoking?

Don’t think it’s going to be easy.

Give Up Smoking
The French medical magazine Prescrire recently carried details of a cross-national survey which followed nearly 4000 smokers in their attempts to abandon their habit. Their approaches ranged across everything from the use of nicotine substitutes through acupuncture to hypnosis and even prayer. The depressing conclusion of the survey was that after twelve months no fewer than 90% of puffers had relapsed. That makes me wonder about the claim of those recent EU ads which announced a 30% success rate for an anti-smoking programme – iCoach – now officially sponsored by Brussels (see www.exsmokers.eu).

More effective, perhaps, is Smoquit, an online service to tobacco addicts – in English – that invites you to input how long you’ve been smoking and how many cigarettes you get through in a day. It then offers you an estimate of the years left to you before you’re claimed by cancer.

Smoking RisksQuitting timeline

AFTER 20 MINUTES blood pressure and pulse return to normal.
AFTER 24 HOURS lungs start to clear.
AFTER 2 DAYS body is nicotine-free, sense of taste & smell return
AFTER 3 DAYS breathing is easier, and your energy increases.
AFTER 2 TO 12 WEEKS circulation improves.
AFTER 3 TO 9 MONTHS coughs and wheezing lessen.
AFTER 1 YEAR heart attack risk is half that of a smoker.
AFTER 10 YEARS lung cancer risk is half that of a smoker.
Source: NHS

84%
Chance of quitting successfully after being intensively advised by a doctor
Source: WHO

In any discussion of this subject two points have to be made: the undisputed benefits of giving up smoking and the undeniable difficulty of doing so. As to the first point, it’s a no-brainer: in France 70,000 people a year die of smoking-related diseases (of which 40,000 are victims of cancer). Also disturbing is a recent research report from King’s College, London, that showed that many of those who had smoked for at least four years suffered significant cognitive impairment affecting memory, planning and overall mental ability. As well as the avoidance of a major health risk, there’s the “no-puffing dividend”, as money is made available for other purposes. In 2012 the average French smoker was funding his habit to the tune of €2214 a year. This should become a stronger motivation with the continuing rise in cost of cigarettes. A pack of Marlboro, France’s most popular brand, now retails at €6.60 with a further €0.30 hike due this July. In fact, despite a continuing increase in the price of smokes, since 2005 the number of those lighting up has actually risen. According to recent Ministry of Health figures, some 26% of the French – 40% of those under-25 – are regular smokers. Of course, one factor which weakens the price dis-incentive is the widespread availability of cigarettes from sources other than the local tabac. Billions of clopes – to use the slang word – are smoked every year which have either been smuggled into France or legally purchased across a frontier. In Italy, for example, that pack of Marlboro, costs just €4.60 (to compare prices see www.cigaretteprices.net). This may partly explain why the inhabitants of the Alpes-Maritimes and the Var are among France’s heaviest smokers with an average consumption of 51 packs a year.

Ups and downs

Want to have better sex?
Better Sex
A major benefit when you quit smoking is an improved sex life.
Other advantages include higher fertility, younger-looking skin and whiter teeth.


Anyway, you’ve got the message: you sincerely want to give up smoking. You may even be influenced by the evidence against passive smoking and of the massive long-term pollution of soil and water caused by discarded cigarette butts. Here’s the way to go. First, drop in at your doctor’s office and tell him you want to escape your slavery to tobacco. He knows your medical history and can advise you in that context. Most likely he’ll refer you to a specialist unit at one of our local hospitals. There’s a list of these, city by city, for each region, at www.ofta-asso.fr

The médecins tabacologues who staff these units (often former smokers themselves) understand the nature of nicotine dependence and how hard it is to overcome. They begin with a lengthy personal discussion and then offer a therapeutic regime probably entailing the use of nicotine substitutes (the Sécu reimburses these up to a limit of €50) reinforced by ongoing psychological support. They will not be surprised if a patient relapses but offer ready encouragement to persevere. As one specialist, Dr Gerard Dubois, has put it, “Don’t be put off by failure. There can be ups and downs but it’s all worth it if you end up beating the weed. Yes, you may put on some weight in the early stages but that’s no big deal. You’ve avoided a major health risk, after all.” His colleague, Dr Anne Borgne of the René Muret Hospital in Sèvres, says: “Backsliding is an integral part of the process of overcoming the habit”.

Be a quitter!

Wed March 13th: No Smoking Day www.nosmokingday.org.uk
May 31st: World No Tobacco Day www.who.int/tobacco/wntd

Useful websites:

www.help-eu.com
www.ash.org.uk
www.nhs.uk/Livewell/smoking
www.tabac-info-service.fr
www.cdc.gov/tobacco/quit_smoking

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