July 18th, 2010

frank_davis4

Being With My God

Interesting new study.

Smoking Mind Over Smoking Matter: Surprising New Study Shows Cigarette Cravings Result from Habit, Not Addiction

ScienceDaily (July 14, 2010) — Nicotine patches and gum are common -- and often ineffective -- ways of fighting cigarette cravings, as most smokers have discovered. Now a new study from Tel Aviv University shows why they're ineffective, and may provide the basis for more successful psychologically-based smoking cessation programs.

In the new study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Dr. Reuven Dar of Tel Aviv University's Department of Psychology found that the intensity of cravings for cigarettes had more to do with the psychosocial element of smoking than with the physiological effects of nicotine as an addictive chemical.

This doesn't really surprise me. I'm well aware that my smoking is prompted by some specific cues. Like a pint of beer. Or a mug of tea. Or a cup of coffee. If I'm not drinking anything, I usually don't want to smoke anything.

Dr. Dar and his colleagues' conclusions are based on two landmark studies. In the most recent study, he and his colleagues monitored the smoking behavior and craving levels of in-flight attendants, both women and men, who worked at the Israeli airline El Al. Each participant was monitored during two flights -- a long flight of 10 to 13 hours in duration, from Tel Aviv to New York, for example; and a two-hop shorter trip from Israel to Europe and back, each leg lasting three to five hours. Using a questionnaire, he sampled craving levels of the attendants throughout the duration of their flights.

Dr. Dar and his colleagues found that the duration of the flight had no significant impact on craving levels, which were similar for short and long flights. Moreover, craving levels at the end of each short flight were much higher those at the end of the long flight, demonstrating that cravings increased in anticipation of the flight landing, whatever the flight's total duration. He concluded that the craving effect is produced by psychological cues rather than by the physiological effects of nicotine deprivation.

This doesn't surprise me either. I quite regularly fly to Spain, which is about an hour and a half flight. While I'm on the flight, I never even think about having a cigarette. As soon as I get off, I want a cigarette.

More or less exactly the same happened when I took an 11 hour flight to Japan and back 5 years ago. There were only two or three times I felt like having a cigarette the entire time. As soon as I got off, it was the number one priority.

It reminds me that when the smoking ban came in, it took me several months to get used to not going to the pub any more. I used to go more or less every afternoon. It was part of my day. No day felt quite right without it. And so when going to pubs started being like going to my dentist, and I stopped going, I'd find that every day, at round about the time I usually went to the pub, a little voice in my head would say, "Time for a quick trip to the pub?" Except it wasn't any more. Going to the pub was no pleasure any more. But I was habituated to going to the pub. And I missed it horribly.

I used once to have a newspaper habit. It was as essential every morning to read a newspaper as it was to have a cup of tea and a cigarette. If I didn't have a newspaper, it wasn't quite right. I'd look for discarded newspapers. Or read old newspapers.

I wonder if grief, when somebody dies, is a consequence of the same sort of habituation. You were just used to seeing their face, and hearing them talk, and when they're gone it's somehow not right. The same could be true of homesickness. That's a desire to be back in an environment which is familiar, and to which one has become habituated.

Nationalism or patriotism may be the same thing. Habituation to whatever it is that goes to make up a particular country or people. In England that's rolling green hills, dotted with church spires, and red letterboxes. It's what you're used to. It's what you're familiar with. It's what you feel at home with. For Americans it's something a bit different. But when the first colonists arrived and called their new country New England, it may have been because it reminded them of England. Being English is a habit, much like smoking.

Same if you're a regular churchgoer, and your church is closed down. You were used to going every day to church, or to the synagogue, or the temple, or the mosque. And when zealots closed these places down, that's very, very painful to people. You feel hurt and grief and anger.

Which reminds me of something I got via Juliette Tworsey of Firebug (whose UK tour is at the end of July), Dutch 'church' claims smoking ban immunity:

The One True Universal Smokers' Church of God was founded in 2001, but has become much more popular in the Netherlands since the smoking ban was introduced in the hotel and catering sector on 1 July this year. More and more bar owners are joining the church and turning their premises into branches of the Smokers' Church...

Is sitting in a Dutch cafe having a quiet beer and a smoke much different from sitting in a church in prayerful contemplation? Not really. It's hardly different at all. The cafe and the church offer the same service, of allowing people to take a break from their busy day for a few minutes of quiet contemplation.

Twenty years ago, I spent a couple of weeks in Luxor, Egypt. One evening I got talking to a Egyptian Muslim who told me that, at the end of the day, he liked to spend a while sitting quietly alone, "being with my God". It was the most important part of his day, he said.

And that immediately reminded me that for years I'd liked to spend an hour or two at the end of each day, quietly sitting and smoking cigarettes and drinking whisky, and thinking about this and that. I did exactly the same as he did. I just didn't think of it as "being with my God", that's all. But it was the most important part of my day, all the same.

But what was true of me sitting alone at night, lost in thought, was also true of me when I visited pubs on my own, and sat drinking beer and smoking cigarettes and thinking about this and that. That also was "being with my God".

So the Dutch cafe proprietors who are re-designating their cafes as churches have maybe simply recognised that they perform the same role as churches, as places to sit in quiet thought, and places to renew community ties.

And the anger that many smokers feel at having their places of worship taken away from them is the same anger as any Christian or Muslim or Jew feels when some religious zealot closes or burns down their places of worship. It's a profound anger, that is as deep as a lifetime's habituation.

And of course the antismokers are religious zealots of a sort. Theirs is a faith, and their zeal is the same as that of any missionary bringing the truth to heathens.

And the developing war between smokers and anti-smokers is essentially a religious war. It's a war between different customs of life, different habits of thought.

Anyway, it's 1:45 am, and I'm just sitting here with a tumbler of whisky and a cigarette, thinking about this and that, and generally being with my God. Is anybody listening? Is there a God?