Exercise from Allen Carr: "What about smoking do I actually enjoy?"

Blog Post created by freakfrehley on Nov 12, 2019

DISCLAIMER: This blog entry was written prior to my quit date and is not intended to encourage someone who has quit to relapse. However, although I focus on the negative aspects of cigarette smoking in this post, I discuss the process in detail, which might be triggering or tempting.


Leading up to my quit date on November 15, 2019, I've been reading Allen Carr's "The Easy Way to Stop Smoking". Actually, I'm reading "The Easy Way for Women to Stop Smoking", because that's the only version of the book available in libraries in my area, Bozeman MT. At this stage in the book -- Chapter 8, "The Brainwashing" -- Allen points out that he encourages people to continue smoking, because many aspects of smoking are hard to be honest about when we are not smoking, and we often don't think about these aspects because smoking is usually an automatic process. Allen encourages us to consider what aspects about smoking we think we enjoy. He offers us a challenge to smoke a cigarette with at least 6 deep inhalations while asking ourselves, "what is it about smoking that I actually enjoy?"


To try this exercise, I had to go and buy a pack of cigarettes because I've been out for quite a while. Forgive my obscenity, but even before getting into my car to go buy the cigarettes, my body manifested one of my common pre-cigarette responses: the sudden need for a bowel movement. Okay, that's the first aspect of smoking to jot down. Once I got to the gas station and checked out, the next element of smoking a cigarette became obvious to me: the inconvenience of having to drive somewhere and pay an uncomfortable $8.50 to even have the ability to smoke. And to think I paid $16 when I was in New York last month!! Earlier in the day I denied myself buying some similarly-priced items from a hardware store due to not really needing them. Like I need the cigarettes more!


Having bought my pack, now I have to decide where to smoke it. I don't want to smoke in the gas station parking lot, primarily for safety concerns. I don't want to smoke outside because it's below freezing. I find an empty parking lot, keep my car running with the heat on, and crack my windows to light up.


The next 3 sensations to focus on are the taste, feeling, and smell of inhaling the cigarette smoke. As I take the first drag, I definitely don't enjoy the taste, and the sensation of inhaling burning fumes irritates my throat. I don't particularly enjoy the smell of smoke either, which is why I go to lengths to crack my windows and keep the ember outside the car window.


Shortly after the first inhalation, I notice the "rush" or "buzz" from the nicotine. I have to say, when I'm focusing on it, it's not particularly pleasant. The feeling is comparable to when I haven't eaten enough and am feeling a full-body craving for food/energy, if that makes sense. While I'm feeling this, I'm also focusing on the after taste from the smoke. Also not great. (Interesting to compare the smell of cigarette smoke to more pleasant smokes such as from a bonfire or BBQ)


At this point in the cigarette, I become aware of how "well" I've lit the cigarette. In the years that I've smoked, I've never found the perfect way to keep a cigarette burning evenly. I start to see tar build up on the outside of the paper below the ember, which looks to me like it's not burning correctly.


Despite the uneven burn, after taking my next deep inhalation, I go through feelings 4-9 all over again. This time I have to start flicking the ash before it falls into my car. I'll call this step "ash management". Not as bad while stationary in a parking lot during winter, but driving on the highway in Montana summers is probably the worst. You can't just ash out the window unless you have no concern about starting a wildfire. Yeah, it's that bad. Hmm.. what is it about smoking that I enjoy?


I take a few more inhales and revisit "steps" 4-10 again before I put the cigarette out. I think I've done enough of this exercise. With the cigarette killed I graduate to the butt management phase. I don't have an ashtray or empty can in my car, so I borrow a trick another smoking friend taught me: jam the butt in a little crack in my car's side mirror. That's attractive. There's a small burn in the plastic of the mirror from 2 years ago when I had set a cigarette down while tending to something else inside my car. I always think about how I would explain that to someone if I were to sell my car. People don't think twice about buying cars from smokers, right?


Let's review the aspects of smoking that I became aware of this time:


"What I think I like about smoking a cigarette"
Action or Response related to smoking a cigarette:
"Stage" of the
smoking process:

How do I feel about this?
1) The sudden need to have a bowel movementBefore smokingThis is not desirable
2) Going out of my way to buy a pack of cigarettes, and the associated costBefore smokingNot ideal
3) Finding an appropriate setting to smoke the cigaretteBefore smokingNeutral to slightly annoying
4) Taste of cigarette smokeWhile smokingDislike
5) Inhalation of smokeWhile smokingDislike -- it irritates my respiratory system
6) Smell of cigarette smokeWhile smokingDislike -- I try to mitigate lingering, in-car smoke as much as possible.
7) Initial nicotine buzzWhile smokingUnpleasant when I focus on it. I feel a kind of "physical anxiety", like my body is telling me I need to eat or nourish myself somehow.
8) After-taste of cigarette smokeWhile smokingIcky. Not at all like more pleasant bonfire or BBQ smoke.
9) "Ember management"While smokingAnnoying -- I want it to burn evenly so I don't have to relight it or get a nasty unlit, stale hit.
10) Ash managementWhile smokingMildly annoying to inconvenient. Nothing worse than a big chunk of ash landing on your clothes or hands while driving.
11) Butt managementAfter smokingMildly annoying, kind of gross. I decide to jam the butt in my side-mirror to not litter and keep the smell isolated from the inside.


Okay, so there's a lot there, and they're mostly unpleasant. While Allen Carr doesn't explicitly say it, he suggests that the things we think we like about smoking aren't all that pleasurable. I'm definitely aware of some of these things when I smoke, but not as aware of them as when I went through this exercise. At this point in the book, it seems he's forcing us to re-evaluate our perception of smoking while building up to the mechanism of nicotine addiction.


Do you identify with any of these stages in the cig-smoking process? Anything not on here that you'd add?