The anti-smoking lobby often make a crucial mistake in their campaigning.: they lose sight of their target audience – children – and go after established smokers instead. Let me tell you right now that attempting to turn the screw on a smoker is the most counter-productive attitude you can adopt. As a former smoker, I can fully empathise with the average smoker’s feeling towards their habit, and I can assure you that an aggressive, scare mongering, lecturing tone is entirely redundant. The smoker needs to be understood, to be accepted and to be humanised.
I’ve always found it very curious that individuals, who have never smoked in their life, see themselves fit to take smokers to task on the habit. It’s exactly the same problem we face when it comes to tackling obesity in the population, namely that we are better off empathising and understanding where the obesity problem stems from, rather than just telling an individual to get off their butt and exercise. The smoker has spent years developing a habit that extends far beyond a physical addiction – it is a powerful emotional and psychological addiction too. Yet despite this fact, the anti-smoking lobby only seem to focus from the non-smoker’s viewpoint (e.g. “They have no willpower”, “Don’t you know what it’s doing to your health?”, “It’s not cool”)
Understand this – smokers started the habit for a reason. Some smokers wanted to look cool, to look edgy, to develop an attitude. Other smokers simply wanted to experiment. Others may just have had a fearless and carefree attitude towards life. Over time, the smoker glamorises the habit, and these strong neurological bonds will remain in place for years to come. When I smoked, I associated many wonderful times in my life with smoking: socialising on foreign holiday trips, sharing cigarettes with ex-girlfriends, smoking before and after important examinations etc. Smoking goes some way to claiming itself a role as part of the individual’s identity.
To this extent, the non-smoker has to understand that the tobacco habit is a strong emotional attachment. If you tell a smoker to give up the cigarettes for their health, then the smoker will ignore you. The smoker knows the scientific facts…they are not as stupid as the anti-smoking lobby would like to believe. But to the smoker, it is like you are asking them to give up their right arm; smoking is as much a part of the smoker’s life as any physical limb would be. The only way a smoker can comfortably stop the habit is if they re-wire their mindset to look at cigarettes in a different manner. Every smoker has deeply-rooted reasons as to why they continue smoking, and it is these reasons which must come to the surface and be addressed.
I truly believe that we are on the cusp of seeing a massive downturn in the global smoking habit. The public smoking bans being established throughout the west have gone some way to removing the last real reason to smoke – the social factor. Even smokers are now conceding that cigarettes are no longer a sociable habit, and many feel sheepish and guilty even lighting up among a crowd. The persecution of smokers is as unjust as it is counter-productive, and we’re doing smokers no favours at all by presenting them as second-rate human beings.
In order to successfully help the smoker quit, we must make them feel relaxed. We must make them feel like we are listening and sympathetic to the emotional connection they hold with the habit. We should not, under any circumstances, be telling them what they should do or how they should feel. We must be open and seek to understand. Buy the smoker a couple of packets of cigarettes and invite them to light up without judgement. Then see if you can get the smoker to elucidate exactly why they must smoke. Once the smoker has been utterly candid and the true reasons are out there on the table, then they can be debunked one by one as you help wipe away the glamour of smoking. Remember, we had no need for smoking before we started, so we should have no need for it now.