‘What’s the first step to quitting smoking? Smoking’

The Allen Carr method allows regular smoking breaks during cessation sessions. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Sadek al-Assaad called a group of heavy smokers Wednesday, reminding them to buy cigarettes. The following day, Assaad, a smoking cessation therapist, will help those same people swear off cigarettes.This unusual approach, however, is part of the time-tested Allen Carr method, a popular approach to breaking nicotine addiction. While the psychotherapy-based program has been practiced across the world for more than 30 years, Assaad is the only licensed Allen Carr therapist in the Arab world.

As new tobacco products – notably electronic cigarettes – promise to help smokers kick the habit while still getting their nicotine highs, the Allen Carr method renounces all forms of nicotine dependence, including vaporizers like e-cigarettes.

Since Assad started the smoking cessation sessions in February 2013, he has helped more than 120 Lebanese conquer their nicotine addiction, he said.

The key, he says, lies in understanding how smokers think.

“Any smoker knows that if a smoker is thinking about cigarettes, he will never be able to concentrate on anything else,” Assad told The Daily Star. “Because we want the smoker to really hear us and listen to what we’re saying, we tell them OK, remove your fixation on the cigarette by smoking.”

At the sessions he runs, which last between three and five hours, he allows cigarette breaks every 30 to 45 minutes. Toward the end of the session, after talking extensively about the root causes of nicotine addiction, participants are allowed a penultimate and, finally, a last cigarette.

After a single session, most smokers are free from their nicotine addiction, but can attend two “booster” sessions afterward if they are still struggling. Only two participants have relapsed into smoking, Assaad claimed. The cost of attending the initial session and two booster sessions is $480, and those who relapse are entitled to a full refund.

Unlike other methods, which sermonize about the negative effects of nicotine and tobacco on smokers’ health, the Carr method uses another approach.

“We don’t talk about the cancer scares and all of the negative things about smoking. Everybody knows that. The smokers know that and they’ve been their whole lives trying not to think about it,” Assaad said.

Rather, Assaad says that smokers can only conquer their addiction by understanding its roots.

Assaad is firmly against e-cigarettes, which have come into vogue as a way for longtime smokers to get nicotine “highs” without suffering the harmful effects of inhaling smoke. He regularly receives calls from e-cigarette users in Lebanon, he says.

“They started using e-cigarettes with the goal in mind that they would quit [smoking], but they realize it’s not helping. ... They’re becoming more and more dependent on nicotine,” he said.

“To us, it’s the same thing. Whether taking nicotine through cigarettes [or] e-cigarettes – it’s taking nicotine,” he says.

Still, some health experts insist that e-cigarettes are an effective tool for smokers trying to kick the habit.

This week, a group of more than 50 leading scientists from around the world cautioned the World Health Organization against classifying smokeless e-cigarettes as tobacco products. E-cigarettes, they claim, can help reduce the 5 million deaths attributed to tobacco use each year.

“These products could be among the most significant health innovations of the 21st century – perhaps saving hundreds of millions of lives,” the scientists wrote in an open letter to the U.N. institution.

While Lebanon has moved to restrict tobacco use, enacting an indoor-smoking ban in 2012, e-cigarettes remain a contentious issue. Many remain skeptical that they are as benign as advocates claim. The American University of Beirut received a $2.1 million grant from the American government to study how much nicotine e-cigarette users actually ingest.

For Assaad, however, the answer is simple. “If I’m smoking, it’s because I’m a nicotine addict. So if I take nicotine through gum, a patch or an e-cigarette, I’m still an addict.”

The e-cigarette trend is, according to Assaad, the latest chapter in the tobacco industry’s effort to “brainwash” users into thinking it’s hard to kick the habit, he said.

“All the methods that are available in the world [to quit smoking] – which say you use a patch, you take this or you take that – they all perpetuate in the mind of the smoker that he’s giving up something when in fact, he’s not giving up anything.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 02, 2014, on page 2.




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