Alternative Ways to Quit Smoking: Do They Work?
There are variety of ways to quit smoking besides using prescription drugs or nicotine patches. The question is, which of these ways actually work?
On this page I'll overview some of the alternative methods people try to quit smoking, including acupuncture, hypnosis or hypnotherapy, and laser therapy. Of course, you can click any of the links to get more information about a given method to quit smoking.
(Herbal methods and other natural techniques are described in the Natural Ways to Quit Smoking section. If you're looking for information about quit smoking programs such as inpatient or outpatient programs, quit smoking classes, or take-home programs, you'll find that on the Quit Smoking Program information pages, which are coming soon.)
A Note About Alternative Ways to Quit Smoking: The Evidence for Effectiveness
On this web site, I try my best to offer evidence-based advice for effective ways to quit smoking, and I generally focus on the highest quality research studies available. However, when it comes to research, all therapies or approaches don't get the same treatment.
For instance, drug-related therapies are much more likely to be studied using carefully controlled, double-blinded clinical trials, because the FDA-approval of a drug requires this type of research. Drug manufacturers, who stand to make money on the drugs, are quite willing and able to fund these high-level (and expensive) studies. On the one hand, this is not a bad thing - it's important to know that a potentially powerful drug is both relatively safe, and that it is at least a somewhat effective way to quit smoking.
On the other hand, most 'alternative' type therapies do NOT have this type of research evidence available, for a couple of reasons: 1) Alternative therapies don't necessarily require FDA-approval, and so are not required to conduct clinical trials; and 2) There is usually not a single company that stands to gain a gazillion dollars from the specific therapy who is willing to foot the bill for the research. (This is not to say that people don't make money providing alternative therapies, whether they work or not - it's just that generally there is not a single company that has a 'patent' or a monopoly on a particular type of therapy.)
In other words, it's important to realize that the evidence can be a bit lopsided: Drug therapies typically have better research to back them up, or they don't make it to market. That doesn't mean they work better than alternative or natural ways to quit smoking, but it does mean that it is hard to evaluate the different ways to quit smoking with the same yardstick. Keep that in mind as you read about the alternative therapies below.
One popular way to quit smoking is with hypnosis or hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy to quit smoking is supposed to help people quit by either weakening their desire to smoke, strengthening their will to quit, or both. Since hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness, suggestions offered while a person is in this state may affect parts of the mind that are not normally directly accessible.
The evidence for the effectiveness of hypnosis as a smoking cessation aid is a bit mixed. Some studies show a strong effect while others show none at all, suggesting that the success of this method may be highly dependent on the approach or skill of the practitioner. Check out the hypnosis page for more info.
Another of the more commonly tried ways to quit smoking is acupuncture. Acupuncture and related therapies (laser therapy, acupressure) are intended to reduce withdrawal symptoms to improve your chances of quitting. However, in a recent meta-analysis, most studies showed no effect at all; only one showed a positive effect. This suggests either that acupuncture really is NOT an effective way to quit smoking, or that it is highly dependent upon finding the right acupuncturist. If you already use acupuncture for other things and feel your provider is a good one, it may be worth considering. Otherwise this may not be a good option.
Laser therapy is basically just a variation on acupuncture, and unfortunately simply doesn't have any evidence of effectiveness as a way to quit smoking. (In fact, one consumer group is actually suing one of the laser companies for consumer fraud in association with selling laser therapy services to quit smoking.)
The premise behind laser therapy as a way to quit smoking is that laser energy rather than needles can be used to stimulate points on the body to release energy.. The technology is FDA-approved for pain relief, and has some evidence of effectiveness for that. It hasn't been studied extensively for smoking cessation, but since it is supposed to work via the same principles as acupuncture, which appears to NOT be effective for quitting smoking, it is pretty clear that laser therapy is not going to be the 'magic bullet' we've been waiting for.
Unfortunately, there is not strong evidence that hypnosis, acupuncture, and related therapies work well for quitting smoking. However, if you're bound-and-determined to try one, I'd recommend hypnosis over acupuncture, because the evidence is a little stronger. If you're simply interested in a natural, no-drug method of quitting, you may also want to read about herbal therapies and nicotine fading, which are described on the Natural Methods pages.
Regardless of whether you choose acupuncture, hypnosis, or another method, I'd also recommend that you find a good quality behavioral program or plan designed to help eliminate the psychological dependence on smoking. A good behavioral program is the foundation of a successful quit attempt.