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Smoker No More

Smoker No More

Mark is a sixty-nine-year-old family man who is still gainfully employed as a machinist. He was also a lifelong smoker and had no intention to quit, even though he knew it was not in his best interest. 


Then came his moment of truth.


Mark received a very scary report from his family doctor following a routine physical: a lung x-ray revealed a specious spot on his lung. Then and there Mark made a decision to stop smoking once and for all.


Mark’s wife, a patient of mine, had been begging her husband to quit for years. She wasted no time bringing him to my clinic. 


In truth, Mark was quite easy to treat since he had already made a firm decision to quit, no matter what.


Most long-time smokers have trouble sticking with their plans to stop “cold turkey” even when they have made up their minds to do so. The psychological—and in the case of nicotine, the physical—cravings often result in initial failure which is why many smokers report several attempts to quit before finding success.


This is where acupuncture and other natural therapies including exercise, hypnotherapy, and mindfulness practices can really help break the addiction cycle.


During his acupuncture treatments, Mark shared with me that since he made his decision to quit smoking, he felt more in control of his life than he had for many years. Together, we developed a plan of action so Mark could achieve his goal to remain a nonsmoker.


Mark began each day by getting up and immediately going to his backyard patio for his first cup of coffee and his first cigarette of the day while he checked his e-mails. We broke this habit by having Mark get dressed and out of the house as quickly as possible and start the day with a brisk walk around his block. On his return, he would than have his cup of coffee and check his computer.


Needless to say, Mark was more relaxed after moving his body and releasing the “feel-good” hormones in his brain. By moving his qi, he found a sense of peace and calmness. With increased exercise, Mark found it easier to keep his cravings at bay. 


In addition, I taught Mark a little trick. I told him to take a cooking clove—the kind you use on a ham—and place it in the back of his mouth toward his last molar. Gently, as he pressed down on the clove with his tongue, the oily taste would be released into his mouth. This helps to alter the craving for the taste of nicotine.


We also discussed ways for Mark to rearrange his patio so it became a place of relaxation—more like a retreat area to read, listen to music, and visit with friends and family and less like a smoke stop. This meant renovating with paint, furniture, and plants.


In observing smokers over the years, I’ve noticed they use cigarette breaks as a way of taking a relaxing deep breath. Consider; by taking a drag of a cigarette, smokers are breathing in to inhale and breathing out to exhale smoke.


I taught Mark another trick by suggesting he cut down a regular drinking straw to the size of a cigarette and use it as a new inhale and exhale tool. This helped him with the tactile sensation of holding a cigarette between his fingers, which is also a part of the smoking ritual. Substituting a straw for a cigarette can help the initial transition. By week three, Mark was able to lose the straw completely. 


Importantly, studies show that it takes three weeks to form new habits in the basal ganglia, which is the part of the brain that creates action, thus playing an important role in planning actions that are required to achieve a particular goal. Most nicotine addicts report that the initial three weeks are the most difficult in which to overcome their cravings. Once you cross this time barrier, success is far more attainable. 


Immediately, acupuncture was an enormous help to Mark. The twice-a-week treatments kept him relaxed through his acute stages of withdrawal from nicotine. In addition, I sent him home with ear pellets, which remain in the ear, stimulating the twelfth vagus nerve, which passes through to the brain releasing calming hormones. Whenever he needed a stronger stimulus for relaxation, he could press down on the pellets with his fingertips.


Acupuncture is a viable, evidence-based solution to smoking cessation. What makes the smoking cessation treatment unique is the fact that the needling can be done in a group setting or one-on-one. In a group setting, the acupuncture needles are placed on the inside of both of one’s ears and the patients are seated in a comfortable chair. In a more private setting, patients lay on a table with needles in one or both ears and on the body as well.


Mark is no longer a smoker. He is a regular exercise enthusiast, has lost twenty-five pounds, and has come to appreciate the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, which includes meditation and deep belly breathing. He is no longer dependent on a source outside of himself for calmness and relaxation. 


Mark reports a sense of freedom emotionally. He told me recently that quitting smoking was the second best decision of his life; the first being the decision to marry his wife.