Smokers disillusioned and over-optimistic about quitting

Most smokers are disenchanted with smoking and would not smoke if they had their time again, according to a letter in this week’s BMJ. It also shows that smokers’ expectations of how soon they will quit greatly exceed rates of quitting observed in recent history.

A national sample of 893 smokers were asked: “If you had your time again would you start smoking?” Over 80% said that they would not (79% men, 87% women). Those aged 45 to 64 were most regretful, with 90% saying that they would not smoke given their time again. This may reflect the mounting distress of smokers reaching the age at which the main smoking related diseases are becoming noticeable in themselves and among their peers, suggest the authors.

The survey also showed that most smokers overestimate the likelihood of stopping in the future and greatly underestimate how long it is likely to take. Over half expected to stop within two years, but in recent history only 6% manage this.

Young people were also very disenchanted with smoking. Seventy eight per cent of those aged 16 to 24 declared that they would not smoke given their time again. Young people were also prone to extreme optimism about quitting. Eighty per cent of young smokers (age 16-29) expect they will have quit within 10 years, but in 1998 65% of people that had ever smoked were still smoking at age 40, and 46% at age 60.

The widespread disaffection with smoking among smokers, combined with their tendency to be deluded about how easy and quick it will be to stop, justifies extra urgency in promoting chances to stop, say the authors. No Smoking Day on 13 March will prompt smokers to make a credible attempt at stopping so that they can live the life they would want if they had their time again, they conclude.

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