Book Review - Quit Smoking - Weapons of Mass Distraction

Quit Smoking - Weapons of Mass Distraction

Dr Simon Chapman

Sydney University Press 359pp. Published as an e-book ($4.99 on Amazon) and paperback ($34.99) 

Book Review by Robin Osborne

From a night-riding graffitist of cigarette posters with Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions (B.U.G.A.U.P.) in the 1970s, to a semi-retired public health academic, Simon Chapman has conducted an unmitigated campaign against the tobacco industry. He set the tone with his PhD thesis titled Cigarette advertising as myth: a re-evaluation of the relationship of advertising to smoking and despite considerable headwinds has held the course. 

Chapman’s latest work is a detailed focus on yet another con associated with the world of smoking, namely that nicotine is so addictive that kicking the habit is impossible without interventions of some kind, mostly provided by the pharmaceutical industry at considerable personal or public expense. 

Historically and medically this has never been necessary: “If we were able to estimate the total number of people who have ever smoked and the total number who later stopped smoking completely, the proportion who were assisted in quitting by the actions of any kind of therapist or interventionist, or by consuming a potion, a pill or nicotine replacement (pharmaceutical, or most recently, from e-cigarettes) would be a small minority.” 

Generously, the book’s introduction is made available as a free download at 

He urges us to “reflect on the huge rhino in the room of smoking cessation: that there have long been more ex-smokers than smokers, that most of them have quit unassisted and that they all were motivated to stop smoking by a complex synergy of factors that played out over years, not just in the final days or weeks before they ended their smoking.” 

These factors are discussed at some length and a convincing case is mounted for widespread strategic change in society’s campaign to progressively end the single most preventable cause of death and serious illness. 

Predictably, vaping (with nicotine containing content) also raises its head, promoted by vested interests as a ‘safer’ method of smoking and now available to approved, and no doubt very insistent, patients on prescription. 

He writes, “Today the dominant narrative about smoking is being undermined by a shift from one about quitting smoking to one about switching to vaping, to the great delight of those in the industries whose very existence rests on the widespread continuation of nicotine dependency.

“Vaping advocates are fond of arguing that because nicotine is freely available in tobacco products, it follows that nicotine for vaping should enjoy at least the same, if not more accessibility and be freely sold almost anywhere. This argument has all the integrity of a chocolate teapot.” 

Decades after his first activism on smoking, Chapman is still giving no free kicks to the tobacco industry, writing, “All tobacco companies now marketing e-cigarettes are delighted to [promote vaping as all but benign], while just down the corridor in their tobacco divisions they continue trying to maximise demand for the cigarettes that will cause the same billion deaths [this century] they claim vaping could prevent.” 

In short, the best way to stop smoking is to stop smoking, an action no one suggests is easy but no sensible person could call ill advised.

While the book’s title suggests a focus on the value, or otherwise, of quit smoking strategies, this is also an account of the author’s unique journey to promoting cessation. It is also highly readable and strongly recommended.