Cold Turkey - 1

The phrase, “cold turkey”, when applied to quitting smoking, usually refers to the method of quitting abruptly (e.g. on specific date), without any gradual cutting down and without the use of pharmacological aids to treat withdrawal symptoms or cravings.

It is not clear where the phrase came from, but it is usually thought to have originally referred to the cold sweats and goose bumps (resembling the skin of a turkey) sometimes experienced during acute opiate withdrawal. The phrase received wide public attention in 1969 when John Lennon used it as the title of one of his songs, believed to have been written while he was withdrawing from heroin. Part of the lyrics of the song state,

“Cold turkey has got me on the run
My body is aching
Goose-pimple bone
Cant see no body
Leave me alone.”

Of course nicotine withdrawal doesn’t typically involve cold sweats and goose-bumps, (see my previous two posts) but the phrase is commonly applied to abrupt withdrawal from any addictive drug. The phrase’s application to nicotine withdrawal was solidified in 1971 with the release of a movie of the same name. The movie was a comedy starring Dick Van Dyke and Bob Newhart (among numerous other famous comedians) telling the story of what happened when an evil tobacco company offered $25,000,000 to an entire town to stop smoking for thirty days. In the movie, a few thousand heavy smokers from the small town of Eagle Rock, Iowa, took up the challenge. In fact, much of the film was filmed in the small town of Greenfield, Iowa, and many local people were used as extras. In a strange example of life immitating art, the local town council (in the real town of Greenfield) decided to try to encourage all the smokers in the town to actually quit smoking, using all the fuss surrounding the filming of the movie to generate publicity and momentum.
So many people actually tried to quit, that real life tobacco company, Philip Morris, commissioned a research study on the town of Greenfield to record the effects of the anti-smoking campaign and the experiences of the smokers. Many tobacco company documents are now required (as the result of law suits) to be publicly available on the internet, and the Philip Morris’ report on the town of Greenfield going “Cold Turkey” can be found at: .
Tomorrow I’ll tell you what they found.
  • 1
Was this article helpful? Yes No

About the Author

MA, MAppSci, PhD

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