Smoking is life-threatening, pretty anti-social and outrageously expensive. So why do we do it?

It’s not all about addiction!

In fact some so-called ‘experts’ claim that nicotine isn’t really addictive and that it’s more about the habits and rituals around smoking that keeps us doing it. I believe these habits and rituals are an important factor but to deny that nicotine is addictive seems to fly in the face of the effects of the drug.

Yes, I believe it is addictive!

In my view it is both physically addictive and also psychologically addictive and often it is the psychological addiction which people find more difficult to cope with. It’s actually very interesting how many people tell me that when they are on a long haul flight they can cope with not smoking comparatively easily because they just know they can’t do it and that’s that! And the fact that so many people have quit smoking in recent years shows that it can be done one way or another.

As a hypnotherapist with a busy practice in South East London…

barely a week goes by without my seeing a client who wants my help to stop smoking. I’ve lost count of the different reasons I hear for continuing a habit that they know is life-threatening, anti-social and outrageously expensive.

It relieves the boredom!

Weirdly, people tell me that they smoke because they are bored – strange how taking a cigarette out of a pack, lighting it and drawing in the poison can be thought of as interesting! Addictive, dirty, smelly, lethal … yes, but interesting? Well, hardly!

It’s relaxing … Really?!

The nicotine in cigarettes stimulates the body to produce adrenaline, which makes the heart beat faster and raises our blood pressure, making our heart work harder. Can that really be relaxing?

It’s calming.

I think the truth is here that it often provides a reason for a break from stressful situations. You can go out for a cigarette break and get away from your desk or your stressful phone calls for a few minutes and it is the break itself, NOT the cigarette, which is relaxing. Well, it’s fine in the summer of course but not so good in the cold and rain!

And then there are the excuses for putting off quitting

‘I’ll quit when I’m thirty’ which extends to forty and fifty and sixty! And then it often turns into ‘well I’ve left it too late now … the harm’s already been done so there doesn’t seem much point in stopping now’

Life threatening? Well, you’ve got to die of something haven’t you!

This is true of course but lung cancer and COPD for example are pretty awful ways to go as anyone knows if they’ve ever nursed a relative with it.

I don’t want to come across as ‘holier than thou’ because I‘ve been there myself!

I do know how it feels. At first when I stopped smoking I found it hardest at times of stress. And I confess to the ‘oh, one won’t hurt me’ train of thought but I haven’t smoked for years and years now and it just wouldn’t occur to me to think of smoking even if I were in the most stressful of situations. It’s just not a part of me… it’s not what I do and that’s a great place to be in!

Some people stop for a year or so and then an emotional association triggers them to start again

They think they’ve cracked it, they’ve been absolutely fine and they’re out for a drink with the old crowd and they are lured into thinking that they’re missing out in some way. They’ll just have the one and that won’t hurt will it?! And then they’ve put their foot on the slippery slope and within a week or two they are back to where they started!

Unfortunately, as I found out, it’s usually more difficult to stop the next time as there are feelings of frustration, disappointment and self-blame that are difficult to deal with.

I know a young woman who came back from the cemetery after burying her father, and the first thing she did was to light up a cigarette after not having smoked for a year. What had he died of? He’d been an incredibly heavy smoker and had died of lung cancer, which had spread throughout his whole body. Clearly she knew better than anyone all about the dangers but something inside drove her to do it. It certainly wasn’t logical or sensible. I imagine it was something emotional … perhaps a connection to her Dad, doing what he used to do or reaching for an old habit that was linked to a feeling of potential comfort, or being part of the crowd, part of the group, a feeling of togetherness. She told me that it was partly ‘the little devil in her that just pushed her into it’

I had a row with my other half and I just reached for one to calm me down

“My husband left me”, “I broke up with my girlfriend”, “I lost my job” all sound like understandable reasons to start smoking all over again but of course now they have TWO problems to deal with… they’ve still lost the husband or the girlfriend and they’ve got the smoking problem back as well.

So, sense and logic doesn’t seem to be a key factor in choosing to smoke in the first place so probably not the most potent motivation for choosing to quit!

In my view it has as much to do and probably far more to do with emotions, unconscious drivers and beliefs rather than conscious decisions.

What sort of beliefs can keep us doing it?

Some people still think it’s cool to smoke or they believed it at the time they started smoking and a part of them hasn’t yet let go of that belief at the unconscious level. Others associate smoking and drinking with feeling more confident, seeming more care free and fun loving (and indeed there are some claims that alcohol mixed with nicotine increases the physical high in the brain!) Some feel they can’t cope without a crutch to lean on … when they don’t know what to do, they have a cigarette!

Some people really don’t like being told what to do or what not to do … they want to be a bit of a rebel. Some people have a deep-seated need to be part of a social group, taking on the values and habits of that group in order to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance.

Habit and rituals

This ‘sense of social belonging’ can be enhanced by the shared rituals the always having the packet with them, the preferred brands, the lighters, the sharing of cigarettes. The physical rolling of cigarettes too seems to enhance the pleasure of smoking whether just nicotine or joints. We are creatures of habit and habits become part of what we do and we tend to think of them as being a part of us.

Hypnosis can make it easier to quit

In my view, of course you can quit smoking on your own but I believe hypnosis makes it easier as it can help you deal with both the physical and psychological aspects.

So in a hypnosis session with me, it’s about helping people feel smoking is no longer a part of them.

In hypnosis you can achieve an intense focus and clarity on what you want to achieve and become very creative in your thinking. You become more receptive to suggestion and seem to find change so much easier. I encourage you to move away from the part of you that used to want to smoke and I give you suggestions for feeling positive, confident and believing that you are able to cope with stressful situations without the need for a crutch.

It’s about helping you detach from the emotional connection to the smoking habit and detach from the beliefs that have kept you there in the past. So you end up feeling that you’ve grown away from smoking and are very pleased that it is just not part of you or your world anymore. The positive emotional connection you have now is with the pleasure of being a non-smoker.