God bless Allen Carr and my big brother Joe

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Allen Carr died on 29th November 2006 of lung cancer. Though I never met him, this man touched my life in a very special way. It was reading his book ‘The Easy Way to Stop Smoking’ that led me to kick the habit exactly 20 years ago to this day.

I started smoking when I was 13, and by the time I stopped I was getting through some 30 cigarettes a day. ‘Having a fag’ was, quite literally, the last thing I would do before going to sleep and the first thing I would do once I woke. I would never be without cigarettes on my person. I saw myself as seriously addicted. I hoped that through some miracle I would wake up one day and just not want to smoke again.

I remember the day I stopped quite clearly. It was during the Easter break while I was at medical school. My housemates had all returned to their family homes for the holiday, but I stayed on ” with the hope of doing some serious catching up on my studies. As was often the way in those days, the work was not going that well, and I was easily distracted.

One morning, a brown package came in the post. I recognised the writing on its outside as my brother Joe’s. Inside, was a copy of Allen Carr’s book with a note that simply read: It’s so nice to be free. My brother, a smoker as stalwart as I, appeared to have stopped smoking with the aid of Carr’s book and was keen to pass the ‘gift’ on to me.

I have to admit, as I started reading the book I had no intention of stopping. I remember seeing the book as a convenient diversion from my studies. One of the instructions in the book is that you should continue smoking as you read it. This, I have to say, I was more than happy to do.

As the day wore on, I persisted with the book, and got, well, hooked. Carr’s main point, it seemed to me, was that smoking addiction is more a psychological issue than a physical one. He also made strongly the point that the correct attitude of mind is imperative if one is to stand a decent chance of stopping, and staying stopped.

That night, I finished the book while taking a bath. I had a last ‘ceremonial cigarette’ while lying in the luke-warm water, and have never smoked a cigarette since.

I owe my stopping to Allen Carr and my big brother Joe, and it is my intention to honour them here.

Now, I realise that not everyone will necessarily have a ‘guardian angel’ in the form of a sibling or friend, but most of us do have access to Allen Carr, even posthumously, in the form of his iconic book. 20 years on, my enthusiasm for ‘The Easy Way to Stop Smoking’ remains undiminished. I heartily recommend it for anyone considering kicking the habit.

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