How to Quit Smoking

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YOU WILL NEED

Ancient traditions

A new menace

1 pitcher of mildly hallucinogenic punch

It wasn't until 1986 that the village of Nabila got its first taste of modern health care, but it came along just in time. Within 4 years of opening a new public health clinic, the medical staff realized they had a major crisis on their hands. According to the book Dying to Quit by Janet Brigham, more than 1/3 of all the 238 people on Nabila smoked. In fact, smoking rates had doubled between 1986 and 1990 and hypertension was now running rampant through the islanders. The medical staff pulled out their trusty American Cancer Society posters, but, somehow, the motivational artwork failed to make an appropriate impact. So, what's a dedicated staff to do? Turn to a higher power, of course—the village elders.

Informed of the health risk, the elders hit on a sensible solution: Everybody in the entire village would have to stop smoking—effective immediately.

And while the whole scheme sounds entirely improbable, the Nabila elders had an ace up their grass skirts. South Pacific island culture has a long-standing tradition, known as tabu, by which certain objects, foods, and actions are made spiritually unclean. In the past, tabu was usually applied temporarily to a certain group of people, such as forbidding warriors from touching the ladies until after a battle. But, in Nabila, cigarettes were about to become tabu permanently for everyone in town.

The first step in the ritual involved requiring village puffers to chain-smoke until they got sick. Then came the drinking. But, unlike the average Western pre-cold-turkey binge, this chug-a-lug had some serious symbolic meaning. The beverage of choice was kava, which, unlike anything made in Milwaukee, is actually a mild hallucinogen. And, in South Pacific tradition, this brew also has magical properties. For instance, if you swear an oath on a swig of kava, you're bound to your promise—on pain of unpleasant circumstances. Nabila's backsliders found this out first-hand. In the four reported cases of relapse, one man tripped and cut himself, another was attacked by a dog, a third ended up with a swollen testicle, and the fourth briefly passed out after mixing tobacco and kava—all of which were attributed to supernatural punishment. Nabila's stop-smoking campaign quickly became a media phenomenon in Fiji, prompting a number of people who didn't even live in the village to join them in tabu. In a nearby village, three-fourths of the young people quit smoking in solidarity. Nine months later, Nabila was still smoke-free. And a full two years after that, the only smokers in town were a couple of elderly people who were given a special dispensation and one visiting teenager. In 2006, Nabila received a World No Tobacco Day Award from the World Health Organization, in honor of its continued success.

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March 12, 2009 - 10:10am
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