Alternatives for Giving Up Cigarettes


Each year, millions of people vow to finally kick the cigarette habit, only to watch their optimistic expectations go up in smoke. But if they’ve tried and failed with conventional smoking cessation approaches — whether it’s the use of nicotine gum, counseling, or behavior modification — they often look outside the mainstream, motivated by the hope that tobacco. The numbers are even higher in other parts of the globe, with worldwide statistics showing that one out of three men and women over the age of 18 are smokers.

Without doubt, smoking remains a risky business. In the U.S. alone, tobacco kills more than 440,000 people each year, according to the CDC.

Yet most experts concur that no matter how strong your will for kicking the habit, there are some powerful, addictive forces plotting against you. Certainly, no single smoking-cessation technique works for everyone, and the failure rate can be discouraging, with most people quitting at least three times in the past before finally finding a way to stop for good.

“There’s nothing more difficult than quitting smoking,” says David Bresler, PhD, clinical professor of anesthesiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and president of the Academy of Guided Imagery in Malibu, Calif. “No one smokes because it feels good and because they enjoy the feeling of hot toxic gases moving down their throat,” he says. “These people are addicts — they’re addicted to nicotine.”

Kiresuk agrees. “When you see what happens to people who are in the stages of withdrawal, you know that this is a very serious affliction,” he says. Committed smokers, he says, are “willing to risk death to keep smoking.”

Still, the alternative approaches to saliva sample, which is analyzed for the presence of cotinine,” a chemical byproduct of nicotine, says Carmody.

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

If you can mobilize vivid images in your mind at the drop of a cigarette ash, guided imagery may be a technique worth trying. Using this method, individuals enter a state of relaxation and then create mental pictures that help tap into their unconscious mind and reprogram the nervous system to resist the temptation to smoke.

“Guided imagery is most helpful in preparing people to quit smoking,” says Bresler. It can help them get ready on the inside, clearing away internal conflicts and obstacles that can block the path to quitting.

Bresler notes that many people are attracted to smoking by Madison Avenue’s imagery that has convinced them that they can feel cool, macho, or seductive if they smoke. Guided imagery, he says, taps into a person’s own imagination and helps them create other images that can counter the purported appeal of smoking, showing instead that it is a toxic poison that you’re inhaling. “The key is to break the habit, break the addiction, and recognize that you don’t need a cigarette to feel cool,” he says.

Part of guided imagery’s power is its ability to instill strength and resolve to toss those cigarettes aside. “It is a means of learning to relax, talking to your creative self, and mobilizing and growing your determination and will to make changes that are important to your well-being,” says Bresler.

Poking Holes in Smoking

Acupuncture, the ancient Chinese technique, has been used for thousands of years for a variety of ills — and these days, for some people who have recently gotten the point, it has helped them rise above the cigarette haze for good. In a study at the University of Oslo in Norway, published in the journal Preventive Medicine in 2002, participants who had smoked for an average of 23 years were given acupuncture treatments, with needles inserted at points believed to influence organs associated with smoking (such as the brain chemicals called endorphins. “Acupuncture can help relieve the ‘nicotine fits,’ the jitters, the cravings, the irritability, and the restlessness that people commonly complain about when they quit,” he says.

A Shot in the Arm

Meanwhile, the ultimate answer to smoking cessation may come not from an acupuncture needle, but from a different kind of needle – namely, one that administers a nicotine vaccination. A number of vaccines are now being developed, with at least one of them (called NicVAX) now being tested in clinical trials for the prevention and treatment of nicotine addiction.

NicVAX stimulates the body’s own immune system to block nicotine molecules from reaching the brain, and thus interfering with the addictive process, including the triggering of nicotine cravings. Researchers hope that the effects of the shot, which would be administered in a doctor’s office, will last for up to a year per shot.