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The Role of the Feedback Loop in Giving Up Smoking

April 13, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 178

The problem with smoking is not only that it interferes with other people's well-being but sets a habit for the smoker to continue. Whether this is simply a social habit, a method of occupying the hands or the need for nicotine, the result is continuation of a habit that many are trying to stop.

The satisfaction of a craving generating more craving is an example of the vicious circle, a phenomenon known to scientists as a positive feedback loop. Whilst such loops can be beneficial under certain conditions they are usually a problem to be avoided and there are measures that can be taken to solve them.

These measures are summarised in the Scoldent List which is an acronym from the titles of the potential solutions. The first of these is saturation which in this case means limiting the availability tobacco to a constant amount per day, so preventing the addiction escalating. This is in contrast to the second method referred to as cut-off implying the removal of any access to tobacco. Although annoying for the smoker it is not as bad as the cold turkey treatment for an addict of one of the hard drugs.

Opening the feedback loop will here be interpreted as removing the desire for more tobacco by virtue of removing the benefit that the smoker would otherwise enjoy. Whether this is a substitute that removes the craving for nicotine or one that in effect lowers the gain of the loop so that the temptation is only reduced, both methods move the smoker in the right direction. Delaying the effect of a smoke may not be beneficial if the only effect is to give the smoker a fix later since benefit is ultimately received and accordingly the temptation is not abated.

The list then moves on to an external force on influence, implying that other people take action, usually perhaps at a treatment centre where a strict discipline in enforced.

Negative feedback loops are used to compensate for errors that a system generates. Such errors may be habits that a smoker cultivates that cause the addiction to become stronger. In this case feedback may be advice on the results of smoking such as lung cancer or emphysema but will be stronger if the smokers educate themselves on the consequences of continuing addiction and take the necessary steps to cure themselves.

A change of theme is the final topic. The treatment of alcoholics provides a clue here. In one such treatment smokers have to realise that they are incapable of resisting the temptation to limit their consumption. It is necessary to drive smokers to practice limiting themselves to a few cigarettes a week and then stopping of their own accord. The addicted smoker will find this impossible and will end up the worse for the habit. This is known as hitting bottom and is considered a cure when smokers finally realise their inability to control their habit and that the only cure is complete abstinence.

It will be noted that in this case, saturation as mentioned above will be ineffective in moving towards a cure but simply prolong the problem. It would in any case have to be supervised by another person who would be aware of the wiles an addicted smoker might use to hide the habit and the source of more tobacco. One person I met cured himself by taking pride in not smoking. It was not a cure, he said, to remove the cigarettes. That way he simply thought himself foolish when he wanted one. His cure was to keep cigarettes in his pocket and use his discipline in not smoking as a source of pride.

The author has considered how some lessons in science and engineering can be applied to problems in every day life. He has prepared the Scoldent list as an aid for solutions to typical problems. Before retirement he was a Chartered Physicist and a Chartered Engineer. His book "Vicious Loops and Pendulums" is available as an ebook or as a paper-back at

Source: EzineArticles
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