I call the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, the Centers for Disease Control, Nicotine Anonymous, and the New York Bureau of Tobacco Control. They’ve never heard of Carr or the Easyway, and three of them echo Anthony’s final words to O’Hara, insisting, “There is no easy way!” I look into the company’s way with figures: For years, Easyway claimed a success rate of more than 90 percent—a figure based on the fact that 5 to 10 percent of clients took advantage of the money-back guarantee. More-objective research puts Easyway’s success at 53.3 percent. Then I come to the huge news story in England last year: Carr died of lung cancer on November 29, ten days before my session in December.
No mention of this was made in the seminar I attended, and I’m filled with questions: Did his illness come from spending two decades locked in small rooms with dozens of chain-smokers smoking in his face? Did he die fulfilled? Why bother quitting if you’re going to die anyway?
I follow up with O’Hara by asking why Carr’s death wasn’t mentioned in the session. “It’s not really an active decision one way or the other,” he tells me, clearly at a loss to be speaking without statistics or enthusiasm. “Allen was always very clear that it was the method, not he, that was exceptional. Personally, I’m still getting my head around it.” After his diagnosis, Allen Carr himself said, “Since I stopped smoking … I have been the happiest man in the world. I still feel the same way.” As for the irony of his dying from the ultimate smoking illness, O’Hara is emphatic: “It’s not a question of health, it’s a question of quality of life.”
I’m teetering, and then at one point during the holidays, I find myself driving three miles in a storm to smoke under a Dunkin’ Donuts awning. New Year’s comes and goes and what could have been a night of smarmy righteousness is not. The nice thing about failure of any type is that it’s focusing. The day after New Year’s, I do what Carr tells you not to do: I slap a patch on my arm. I load the wife, the kid, and the dog into a car and drive for six hours. The day goes by without incident, then another, and another. I keep the patch on, like a safety net, but I also return to Carr’s book, finding his reasonable, emphatic turns of phrase heartening. Carr insists that quitting can be fun, and it certainly is interesting: the patina of nervous energy, the steady hunger, the sudden smells and tastes, the happy bouts of rage. Reading him now, so soon after his death, renders his enthusiasm for life that much more effective.
Easyway has all of the particulars in place to make a successful translation from England to America: celebrity endorsements, a high success rate, and giddily enthused therapists. I’m tempted to see them as hucksters using real smoke and mirrors to profit from desperation, but since the book was published in America, in 1999, I’ve seen a half-dozen friends, respectable smokers all, stop right after finishing it. The only complaint about the system is that it isn’t easy enough, and the one failing has more to do with America than with the program: The word easy has connotations of pampering and inactivity here, easy like Sunday morning. It might not be easy in an American sense to stop, but it’s certainly possible, and this is where Carr shines. Ex-smokers whine so much about stopping that it makes the rest of us think it’s impossible. Carr lets you know that’s a lie.
Then again, anyone who is willing to pay $400, trek out to Greenpoint, and listen to a stranger talk for over five hours has pretty much made up his mind. And I don’t know about you, but smoking had become such hard work that, frankly, this is the easy way.