No Smoke With This Man’s Fire

AS THESE things go, “I’m going to cure the world of smoking” is up there with the world’s best catchphrases.

These words were uttered by Allen Carr on July 15, 1983, the day when he stubbed out his last cigarette.

Convinced he had discovered a method based mainly on the logical reasons smokers need to quit (rather than on the sea of drugs and patches and gums and hypnotists on the market), he would soon coin it Easyway, which would heal millions of their nicotine dependency.

Carr’s second wife Joyce had heard it all before, the muggy reek on his clothes continued evidence of the 100-a-day routine he’d cultivated throughout his working life. That day, she witnessed him have such a fierce coughing fit that a heavy nosebleed ensued.

Traumatized by the event, Carr’s first instinct was to light up. The bleeding intensified. Appalled, Joyce demanded he visit a hypnotherapist who had helped a family friend.

Dubious, but willing to placate his wife, Carr went along and had his eyes opened, not by the treatment but by one statement from the therapist: “Do you realize smoking is just nicotine addiction and if you quit for long enough, you will eventually be free?”

Many variations on this mantra are repeated in Carr’s books and by the ex-smoker therapists who work in his clinics, helping keep the success rate around the 95% mark they proudly boast.

I met Joe Bergin, the man who runs Easyway Scotland, in an Edinburgh cafe two weeks before visiting his group clinic at Ellersly House Hotel in Murrayfield. I realise our 90-minute interview was, for the most part, effectively a mini-session, all the analogies and arguments and persistent talk of “illusions of benefit” and “the smoking trap” all crop up in Carr’s books and the five-hour long therapy sessions. Fair enough, as Bergin describes the Easyway method as his “favorite subject”.

The feeling which smokers are really after, he says, is the natural relaxed state of the non-smoker, believing they can get there only by feeding the nicotine addiction. The craving arises from the feeling when their last nicotine rush starts to leave the system. So, why not just let the rush leave and allow the body eventually to move into this naturally relaxed state? Carr and his captains’ simplest analogy is you wouldn’t wear a pair of tight shoes simply to feel the relief when you take them off.

On the day of the session, Kate Moss has been accused in the press of being a tobacco industry puppet, only too happy to appear in public and before the cameras with an inevitable wet tab hanging from her lips. Bergin tells me while the industry has seemingly taken a hit from the advertising ban, they are still able to pour an estimated £100m a year into various marketing techniques: “The last resort of the movie-maker is to go to a tobacco company and as long as someone is smoking in the movie, that’s fine.”

It’s not about taste. They would smoke camel dung if they could.

As they enter the room where the clinic is being held, it’s immediately obvious to the wannabe non-smokers they have come to the right place. A funeral pyre of cigarette packets and lighters (the God Bless America and Cyprus holiday lighters are Bergin’s favorites) is positioned near the door, a constant reminder as they head outside for a puff during the “comfort breaks” of the filth they are inserting into the body. The atmosphere is quiet as the group gathers. “It’s like a dentist’s waiting room,” notes Bergin. “You’d think I was taking you to the cemetery rather than leading you away from it.”

Sitting on chairs but encouraged to curl up on the floor if they wish, the collective comprises five men and four women, from vocations as varied as the record industry and homeopathy. Bergin promises “no hoopla, no fancy aids or gimmicks” but there is a white board, graphs, a trick-of-the-eye picture of Marilyn Monroe and a fake needle which he produces to simulate a junkie injecting. Later, there is a brief interlude for an eyes-closed relaxation segment. Scribbling on the white board all the standard reasons why and when people smoke (boredom, relaxation, courage, for concentration, to stay slim, with a drink, on the phone) he discounts each one by applying the Easy way tenets.

“It’s not about the taste. A smoker would smoke camel dung if they could.” And after four and a bit hours, the ritual of the last cigarette sends the group out into the cold.

At the end of the session, Bergin asks the group how they feel: “Frightened but confident”, “the worry is staying stopped” and “the penny will drop when I sit down and have a drink tonight” are among the replies. If the statistics are true, only one of this group will be lured back into the smoking trap; but even they will have the opportunity of attending later booster classes after which, if they are still hooked, they’ll be refunded the 220 fee paid for the initial session.

The success-rate statistics are certainly remarkable, particularly considering the outcome of Scotland’s high-profile smoking ban, which came into force in March last year. It’s probably too early to measure fully its impact but figures from Imperial Tobacco show tobacco sales fell by about 5% at the time of the ban. Sales continue to be down by 2% to 3%. A study of bar staff carried out by Dundee University showed an improvement in their respiratory health within two months of the ban. But evidence of long-term cessation is patchy.

And as impressive as Easyway’s statistics are, the method doesn’t work for everyone. Four years ago, 33-year-old IT consultant Katie attended the clinic and booster sessions but has been on and off smoking ever since. “I think the booster sessions are a bit more aggressive because obviously they don’t really want to be holding them; for the therapist, it’s like facing their rejections.

“Things happened in it that annoyed me. I was told I only smoked because it was cool. That didn’t really help.”

Katie is a couple of months into her current quit and insists she is holding out with will-power, a real no-no concept as far as Easyway is concerned.

A fortnight on from the session, I ring 37-year-old events manager Terri who had also previously tried Easyway but is convinced this time around the method will stick.

“I was concerned because I was going out a couple of days after the session for a big rugby night out. But I was pleased with myself because I didn’t even think about smoking at the time. The session made me recognize I wasn’t really missing out on anything.”

After the session, I asked Bergin why he used “we” instead of “you” so much. “You shouldn’t use you’, it’s too accusative.

“I use the we’ because we the smokers’ are brainwashed and even non-smokers have been brainwashed into believing there’s some kind of pleasure in it.”

A few minutes before the session started, I visited the toilet, and a fuzzy version of I Will Survive forces its way out of the hidden speaker system. Coincidence? I think so.

# Burning Ambition: The Inspiring Story of One Man’s Quest to Cure the World of Smoking has just been published by Penguin, priced  1.99.

Easyway Scotland: 0131 449 7858 or see www.easyway scotland. co.uk

By BRIAN DONALDSON, The Herald
Original Publication Date: March 13 2007
Reproduced with the permission of The Herald, Glasgow © Newsquest (Herald & Times) Ltd.

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