Wheezing, reduced lung capacity and trouble breathing had plagued smoker Lynn Ely for several years. Then she decided to kick the habit and go cold turkey.
The 33-year-old had managed to make it through her teens without succumbing to nicotine. But at age 22, boredom kicked in and Ely took up the habit.
“It was the beginning of the end,” she says.
Her body’s only reprieve was when she had a cold, and smoking became nearly impossible. In 2008, after eight years of puffing away, she decided to kick the habit after she had recovered from a cold.
Her main motivation, probably, was her partner – a non-smoker.
In November it will be four years since she last lit a cigarette.
Within four months of quitting, she started feeling better. Her wheeze had disappeared, she started breathing properly and her lung capacity had improved.
There have been times, when under pressure at work, she has felt tempted to light up a smoke.
But on all these occasions, she’s managed to resist by finding a distraction.
She says she won’t be reaching for a cigarette again.
“Now I get annoyed with people who smoke. People who quit are always worse and are on their high horses,” laughs Ely.
She is among scores of former smokers who turned to the cold turkey method in order to quit.
The National Council Against Smoking says this method has the best long-term success.
Council director Peter Ucko says success rates differ from person to person. “The most successful way is making the spontaneous decision to go cold turkey.”
He concedes that some prescription drugs, patches and devices do help. But it’s up to the smoker to commit to the decision and make the effort to give up the habit.
Ucko says “trying” to quit gives smokers an excuse or permission to fail on that attempt. The goalposts will keep shifting, but it’s important that quitters stick to their resolve.
Once the decision is made, the non-smoker is advised to discuss it with their families, friends and colleagues.
Support is important. If people know you’ve stopped, they’re less likely to offer you cigarettes.
But, Ucko warns, some smokers may actively try to discourage the quitter.
Ucko also advises people to drink plenty of water, as this helps flush the nicotine from the system.
When experiencing a craving, delay the decision to smoke, he says. If the craving starts at 2pm, decide to have a cigarette at 2.15pm. By then the craving will have passed, said Ucko. While people know that stopping the habit does save money, it’s usually an unseen saving.
The council advises people to have a jar in a visible spot in the house. Each morning, put your cigarette money in the jar.
On reaching work, Ucko says the new non-smoker should tell themselves they can’t buy cigarettes because their allotted money is at home, in the jar.
At the end of the week the jar should contain about R200. Some of this money could be spent on family members. “Thank them for helping you get through the week,” says Ucko.
The council estimates between five and seven million South Africans older than 15 smoke.
Many young adults start smoking at the age of 20, while they attend university.
However, by the age of 29, Ucko explains that many in that age group have grown up and become sensible adults and decide to quit.
While going cold turkey and battling the withdrawal is one option, other programmes target other areas of smoking.
Dr Charles Nel, chief executive of the Allen Carr programme in South Africa, says addiction to smoking is 5 percent physical and 95 percent psychological.
According to the Allen Carr website, the programme removes the psychological addiction to nicotine or the need or desire to smoke.
Nel says he believes that no pills can fix the psychological addiction to smoking.
Nel points out that smokers can sleep for eight hours, or be on a plane for 14 hours and not smoke without a problem.
He says the programme does not believe that nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) helps smokers to stop smoking for the same reason that alcohol replacement therapy does not work for the treatment of alcoholism.
Independent published success rates for NRT after 12 months are less than 10 percent.
Pharmacists said that while nicotine replacement therapies were useful, the only drug that seemed to work was Champix, a prescription drug taken over six months.
They said over-the-counter products, including herbal remedies, had not been that effective in helping people stop smoking.