The Allen Carr “Easy Way” to quit smoking -1

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A colleague in Mexico recently asked me to explain the popularity of the Allen Carr method of quitting smoking, and I thought this might be of wider interest. It just so happens that Allen Carr’s original clinic in Raynes Park in London was about 500 yards from my old home in London and so I had the chance to meet him and discuss his methods.

Allen Carr was an accountant by profession, who became a 100-cigarettes per day smoker. After numerous attempts to quit, he finally succeeded at the age of 49. In doing so he felt that he’d finally figured out how to quit smoking, and wrote a book to tell others how to do it as well: “The Easy Way To Stop Smoking”. He started a smokers clinic in Raynes Park in south west London. The method used there was a little unusual. Basically about 6 people would sit in a room in comfortable chairs, each with their own ashtray, and sit smoking while listening to Allen (or later one of his many other therpists) talk pretty much constantly for 4-6 hours. The general message here is that although it is an addiction, it is also a deadly poison, and in fully understanding that and in fully committing ones mind to quitting, anyone can succeed. Obviously there’s more to it than that in the book and in the 6 hour session, but its main characteristic is a single-mindedness and a focus on quitting, that you can succeed, that you are not really giving up anything valuable. Many who have sat through the session or even watched the video have described it as “a bit like being brainwashed”. Although he was not a trained psychologist, Allen Carr clearly had an intuitive grasp of some of the key principals of behavior change and his method is similar to cognitive therapy (a psychological treatment based on changing the way a person thinks – in this case about smoking). At his clinic he would have an enormous pile of discarded cigarette packs in one corner of the room, an enormous pile of lighters in another. He explained that these were left by people who had succeeded with this method, and that towards the end of the session the participants would be expected to throw their own packs onto the piles and never smoke again. Its clever psychology as it gives tangible visual evidence of many others having succeeded this way before. He was able to give a very clear message, often rather critical of other efforts to help people stop smoking, and unburdened by the need to back his views or opinions up with hard scientific evidence. It was rather unfortunate and unnecessary that he chose to speak against other methods that are supported as effective by solid evidence, but that was part of the rather evangelical, single-minded approach that many found appealing.

I won’t go on and spend too much time describing his other products and achievements. You can find out more about these at the website: http://allencarr.com/central/
But in summary, Allen Carr’s original book went on to be very successful, being translated and published in many languages and reportedly selling over 7 million worldwide. He subsequently wrote a number of other similar books, and then videos, DVDs etc, and established a network of clinics and seminars around the world. He died of lung cancer in November 2006 at the age of 72.

There is no doubt that a great many smokers quit smoking with the help of his method – mainly by reading one of his books. I believe that other kinds of therapists can learn something from it also. In terms of research evidence, two published studies reported very good quit rates (40% and 51% at one year) from use of his method in a workplace context. These were simply descriptions of treatment and outcomes, with no comparison group, and so it is hard to draw any firm conclusions, other than to not that the quit rates, while not being the 90% often claimed, are very good. When I worked in London I was asked to do a mini evaluation of quit rates at the Allen Carr clinic there. Basically I found that although the treatment appeared to boost people's motivation to quit, and some succeeded, the quit rates (under 30%) did not match the claims. A copy of my full report on that evaluation will be provided in my next post. On the basis of that evaluation, I don’t believe the Allen Carr method is all its cracked up to be, and if someone had a few hundred dollars to spend on quitting smoking there are treatments with much better evidence supporting them. However, if you, or someone you know, is thinking about quitting, not ready to try medication (e.g. nicotine patch, Zyban or Chantix), but willing to read a book, then Allen Carr’s might be worth a try.
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About the Author


MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.

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