Probably the most influential anti-smoking guru in history was Allen Carr, who is credited by his organization with helping some 30 million participants to shake off their dependencies on not only nicotine but destructive overeating besides.
The stats are a bit wobbly, because the 90 percent quit rate for smoking only applies to people three months into the program. After a year, a followup study showed that only 51 percent were still abstaining. It is a sad fact that quit-smoking efforts, like weight-loss efforts, usually collapse over time.
There do not seem to be many long-term studies, and the ones that exist tend to be discouraging. Carr’s Easyway smoking cessation program is long on personal endorsements but regrettably short on scientific data. Nevertheless, his methods spread.
Carr evidently felt that “a simple appeal to reason” is all it takes to turn somebody’s life around. He believed in differentiating between lack of willpower and a conflict of will. In other words, credence is given to the idea that the addict truly wants to quit. It’s just that the desire to continue is stronger. Regarding any self-destructive habits, he warned against the insidious influence of gradual change and the acceptance thereof. A person who gets used to gaining a pound a year may not even notice, until things have gone way too far.
One of Carr’s theories was that what appears to be compulsive overeating could just be normal, simple hunger; that even a person who eats an enormous amount many not be taking in enough of the right nutrients, so the body blindly demands More, More, More. He held a basic belief that nobody really wants to be addicted to smoking or overeating, and that any perceived benefits they believe they derive are “just the addiction talking.”
People smoke, Carr said, to fill emptiness, otherwise known as the emotional void, a characteristic shared by compulsive overeaters. He was familiar with the lies that people tell themselves in order to continue smoking, which strongly resemble the lies that people tell themselves in order to carry on overeating. We explored other similarities and differences between tobacco addicts and compulsive overeaters, and how cognitive behavioral therapy might help both.
We saw how, when it comes to employer-paid insurance, smoking and obesity are equally repugnant, although corporations have to be more careful about discriminating against obesity because some people can’t help it, whereas anyone can choose not to smoke. At least, that is how the theory goes. Whether it is correct is widely contested.
In some quarters, pharmacological intervention is seen as the answer, as chemicals have been discovered that help some nicotine addicts and some overeaters who are either addicted, or might as well be. The borders get fuzzy sometimes.
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