By Thrasy Petropoulos
As Chris Underhill, a north London estate agent, pulled up at a set of traffic lights he felt ambivalent about the Allen Carr stop-smoking session he had just attended.
Colleen Dwyer helps smokers to quit
It was supposed to be - as the brochure put it - 'the easy way to stop smoking'.
But after five hours in a smoke-filled room with fellow hopefuls and a group therapist he could not say whether he had smoked his last cigarette.
Then he spotted a man in a car alongside his with a cigarette hanging from his mouth.
"Mug," he blurted.
It was a word he could not recall using before, but it came out all the same.
And three years on, neither he nor his wife, Julia, who also attended the clinic that day, have smoked another cigarette.
High success rate
Chris's is a common story for those who have experienced the Allen Carr smoking cessation method.
Many have read the book "The Easy Way to Stop Smoking" but of the people who have attended one of the 40 clinics worldwide, more than 90% are cured, a figure based on the money-back guarantee for failure.
The claim that even the heaviest smokers will almost certainly leave the clinic "happy non-smokers" is as astonishing one.
Willpower has nothing to do with it - in fact it is actively discouraged.
We are told that every other method - patches, nicotine gum, sheer force of will etc. - is bound to failure.
If the desire to smoke is still there then you are almost certain to succumb to temptation.
Exposing the myths
The selling point of the Allen Carr method is that it removes that desire by uncovering the "myths" that sustain the tobacco industry.
"Practically everything you think you know about smoking is an illusion - for a start, nobody chooses to smoke," therapist Colleen Dwyer told a group of 17 would-be non-smokers during a recent session in London.
Smoking is an addiction, not a habit which, apparently, can be traced back to the first, cough-spluttering drag behind the school bicycle shed.
She went on: "Smoking is the most subtle, sinister trap deceived by man or nature. And the true evil is nicotine, the most powerful drug known to mankind - but only in the speed at which it traps you.
"Heroine is rightly thought of as an evil drug, killing 300 people a year in England. Well, smoking kills that many every day."
Ignoring the temptation
The thrust to the therapy is in understanding your addiction to nicotine and recognising its symptoms - and then choosing to ignore them.
The symptoms should, we were assured, last no more than a couple of weeks.
"The key to giving up," said Colleen, "is to realise that there is nothing to give up. There is no pleasure, no benefit to smoking.
"The headrush is no more than suffocation - easily replicated by spinning round in a circle.
"And look at cigarette advertising - it is based on addressing people's fears.
"When health warnings were introduced to cigarette boxes the manufacturers braced themselves for a drop in profits, but sales increased.
"The more people say it is harmful to smoke the more you feel the need for a cigarette."
Easy for a therapist to say, but what about Jilly, a tall, blonde, menthol-smoking mother who was clearly terrified about the prospect of giving up?
"I don't know if I can do it," she said. "I really don't know. I constantly need a cigarette.
"I'm fed up of going to family funerals. I've lost four members to cancer. My mother and, just recently, my father died of lung cancer.
"And my aunt is in a coma at the moment suffering with cancer of the pancreas.
"I want to be at my son's 21st birthday party, singing and dancing.
"He's only two."
Jilly then shuffled nervously on the floral reclining armchair and lit up another superking menthol.
"You'll be fine," said Colleen, a one-time 60-a-day smoker who gave up so easily with the method that she invested her professional career in it by training to become a therapist.
And she was probably right.
In Colleen, Jilly could see her ideal image - attractive, powerfully dressed in black and high heels and a "happy non-smoker"
"I envy you so much," Jilly said. "You look so good and it sounds like you quit without any difficulty."
For others at the session is was harder to say.
The signs were not so promising for Nicki, an Irish fitness fanatic.
"I don't get it," she said. "I'm still waiting for something to happen. I don't feel any different."
And her neighbour, John, knew what it was like to stray from the straight and narrow.
He had given up successfully for a year by using the method before doing the unforgivable and having one more cigarette, believing he could now control his intake.
From there began a chain reaction and the addiction once again took hold.
For the second time in his life, John was asked to smoke his last cigarette.
He then joined the others in theatrically throwing down his packet and lighter on to an ever-growing pile in the corner of the room.