Smoking is a significant risk factor for many diseases including cancer, cardiovascular, chronic lung diseases and gastric ulcers. According to statistics smoking kills nearly 6 million people each year i.e. approximately one death every six seconds. 5 million of these results directly from smoking, while more than 600,000 are due to passive smoking. Due to the lag of many years, smoking is a slow gradual killer and people don’t realise its impact on their health until much later. By then they have already developed an addiction. A survey in China revealed that only 38% were aware it caused coronary heart disease. Amongst smokers who are aware of its dangers, most want to quit however worldwide national smoking cessation services are only available in 21 countries. Smokers wanting to give up have tried, but most attempts are unsuccessful. E-cigarettes have become the new alternative to smoking but its safety is yet to be evidenced, and in my opinion there is a need to be cautious before giving it the green light. Getting help through cessation advice services using nicotine replacement therapy and counselling may be helpful but don’t always work for everyone. Complementary therapy studies have been done on acupuncture, hypnotherapy, yoga, mindfulness meditation herbal remedies and dietary supplements with some encouraging preliminary results.
- Acupuncture is an ancient traditional Chinese therapy involving the insertion of fine needles at specific points in the body. It aims to affect symptoms of withdrawal, and studies show that it reduces the taste of tobacco and the intensity of the desire to smoke. A review of 38 acupuncture and related randomised studies found inconsistent evidence of benefit, however there is enough to support the possibility of a positive effect that is greater than placebo. When used in combination with education it is found to have greater benefit. Studies on longer term effects show that it helps to keep smokers motivated to reduce or even quit smoking, with the effects lasting up to 5 yrs.
- Hypnotherapy is a therapeutic tool used to affect patterns of behaviour. A Cochrane review found the evidence to be unclear, and not more successful than other therapist contact interventions. Any encouraging results were attributed to the individual’s strong motivation.
- Yoga, breathing exercises and meditation-based therapies demonstrate some preliminary positive results to stop smoking in a small number of studies. Yoga compared to a psychologist led wellness group showed greater rates of abstinence in the longer term, but also improvements in anxiety levels and perceived health and well-being.
- Dietary supplements and herbal remedies, S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SaMe), silver acetate, lobeline (Lobelia inflate) and St. John’s Wort have not shown to be effective, and should only be tried with the advice and guidance of an appropriately qualified health professional.
There has been an ongoing interest in the use of complementary therapies to stop smoking. Regularly, I get smokers who express a need (for all the right health and economic reasons) to give up smoking and inquire about the effectiveness of complementary therapies. My answer has always been the importance of a strong inner desire (rather than just need) to give up, without which nothing works completely. Therapies like acupuncture can help to alleviate stress, aid relaxation, reduce withdrawal symptoms and the urge to smoke thus easing the journey to becoming smoke free somewhat soother, but in my experience the reason for smoking is the key influencing factor which needs to be addressed. Issues of life style choices, work, family, relationships and childhood can all form part of the picture. Finally, what determines which way it swings is a willingness to make real life changes, which is the ultimate ‘Crunch Factor’.