€190,000 goes up in smoke on trials | The Sunday Times


Colin Coyle - Publicado em  8 Fevereiro de 2015

THE Department of Health has allocated €190,000 in lottery funding towards clinical trials of the Allen Carr Easy Way to Stop Smoking programme. Millions of people have given up cigarettes using the technique devised by Carr, a former chain smoker, but the programme has never been clinically tested before.


A London­born accountant and 100 ­a ­day smoker for more than 30 years, Carr lobbied for two decades for the British health service, the NHS, to carry out trials of his cognitive technique, even writing an open letter to then prime minister Tony Blair, but the system he devised was never evaluated.


James Reilly, the former health minister, signed off on the €190,000 funding last summer despite reservations by officials, records released under  the Freedom of Information Act show. Lottery funding is generally used for capital projects, but Reilly overruled civil servants to back the trials. The funding has been allocated to the Tobacco Free Research Institute (TFRI), which studies tobacco dependence.


Luke Clancy, director general of the TFRI, said the trials would provide value for money and assess for the first time the efficacy of Carr’s methods. “For many people, such as pregnant women or those with medical conditions, a pharmacological approach to giving up smoking is not an option,” he said. “For some there are serious side effects to tobacco­replacement products. This system could be life­changing for those people, yet there has never been a randomised, control trial since it started to be used 30 years ago.”


Clancy said TFRI had responded to all the concerns of department officials. “There were concerns over costings and ethical considerations but we addressed them and hope to begin the trial this year,” he said.


The Carr organisation costed a full clinical trial last year, Clancy said, but found that comparing its system to the NHS Stop Smoking Service in the UK would cost £800,000 (€1m), considerably more than the Irish research project.


Carr, who died of lung cancer in 2006, believed that nicotine dependence was a myth and that withdrawal was simply an “empty, insecure feeling”. In his best­selling book, The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, he wrote that will power was not needed to give up cigarettes and that only the “fear of giving up” prevented smokers from quitting.


Unlike other self­help guides, readers were encouraged to continue smoking until the final page of the book at which point they would stub out their last cigarette.


Despite anecdotal evidence backing the programme, with celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher, Ellen DeGeneres and Richard Branson claiming it helped them kick the habit, the medical profession has consistently ignored Carr’s technique, partly because of his lack of scientific qualifications.


After failing to convince the NHS and British lobby group Ash to endorse his system, he accused them of being compromised by the nicotine­ replacement industry.


Obituaries of Carr noted how he compiled a dossier of connections between anti­smoking lobby groups and tobacco companies and circulated it among national newspapers, although none published the claims.


As well as writing self­help books, Carr had a string of clinics where clients were promised they would stop smoking or get their money back. In 2001 he sued Chris Evans when the DJ claimed on Virgin Radio that Carr had been spotted smoking. Carr won £100,000 in compensation.


Reilly, now the minister for children and youth affairs, defended the decision to fund the trials despite reservations expressed by civil servants, noting that it would be the first such study.


“I always valued the advice I got from officials in the Department of Health on the National Lottery Discretionary Fund but as minister I didn’t always agree with them,” he said.


“In the case of the application for funding related to the Tobacco Free Research Institute Ireland, I was fully satisfied that the public benefit could be significant. In the area of health, substantial sums are sometimes spent for the survival of individual patients, and properly so.


“Here is an opportunity potentially to help many persons with a killer addiction. This funding could assist in scientifically underpinning methods of giving up smoking that do not require medication such as ecigarettes and nicotine patches.”


The project was not the only one backed by Reilly in the face of strong objections from officials. The former health minister also allocated €50,000 to Cork Counselling Service last year even though civil servants advised that it had received “considerable” lottery funding in previous years and was using the grants for “ongoing revenue purposes” instead of capital expenditure.


In a memo to officials, Reilly agreed that the organisation may have “become dependent on lottery funding” but argued that cutting off funding could have a serious effect on its clients, vulnerable teenagers at high risk of suicide.