Breaking the Powerful Attraction of Nicotine – The New York Times

Nicotine patches, gum, and vapes can help satisfy some cravings, but they can’t replace the rituals of a cigarette: retreating outside with a co-conspirator, the crackle of cellophane and foil as you open a new pack, the intoxicating buzz of that first one pulling.

Bruce Holaday, 69, a retired educator from Mill Valley, California, knows the power of nicotine well. Mr Holaday estimates that he has attempted to quit smoking 100 times over the past five decades, often relying on nicotine replacement products. But he always came back to his lifelong affair with Marlboro Lights.

His latest attempt in August, a cold truth gambit without nicotine replacement therapy, set off an excruciating maelstrom of food cravings that lasted for several months. “It was like a sudden earthquake of desire and need, and then there were these tremors for the next 10 to 15 minutes,” he said.

But this time, Mr. Holaday joined a support group at Stanford Health Care, which brought a strong social component to his quest. He described the effect as “not wanting to let the team down” and said he’s learned to avoid stressful situations like watching the news. He discovered that if he could handle the initial surges of desire, they invariably subsided.

In late June, he passed a year since he took his last hit.

He’s gained weight but doesn’t get his breath as easily when hiking. And he’s confident he’ll never go back to smoking.

Asked about the prospect of drastic government action to force Americans to quit, Mr. Holaday paused to reflect on the first move he’d taken as a freshman half a century ago. “If it weren’t for that nicotine rush, I probably would have walked away and never smoked again,” he said. “It’s going to be tough for smokers, but anything we can do to prevent a new generation from becoming addicted is a good thing.”

Robert Chiarito contributed reporting from Chicago.

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