As fireworks burst overhead, are you inspired to start the new year off with a bang? How about kicking a bad habit? Some are easier to boot than others – one bad habit you may have tried to drop at least once or twice before is cigarette smoking. Understandably so, as it can be incredibly difficult to quit, with some researchers likening it to quitting heroin or cocaine.
And yet, cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year and is considered the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. About 70 different known carcinogens are released in cigarette smoke with each puff, including the well-studied benzo[a]pyrene (BP), which has been shown to disrupt DNA in chromosomes and lead to cancer. Besides cancer, smoking can also lead to a wide range of respiratory and cardiac-related illnesses including heart disease, tuberculosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which can involve emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Nicotine Replacement Therapy
Even though the health risks of smoking cigarettes are more well-known now, they’re still a habit-forming vice due to the presence of nicotine-rich tobacco, which when smoked, increases the release of a brain chemical called dopamine, the well-known, feel-good neurotransmitter in charge of boosting mood and energy. Withdrawal from cigarettes is so challenging because levels of dopamine plummet at the same time as nicotine levels do, leaving you jittery, restless, irritable, nauseous, dizzy, anxious, and disorientated. To alleviate the inevitable withdrawal symptoms that accompany quitting, the most popular method is not cold turkey. Instead, ex-smokers often seek a method called Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), in which small amounts of nicotine are used, usually in a product that is devoid of the cancer-causing chemicals found in cigarettes, such as a patch, chewing gum, lozenge, or inhaler. This small amount of nicotine helps to curb withdrawal symptoms as you adjust to having less and less nicotine each day.
Besides NRT, what are some other ways that you could explore freeing yourself from smoking? Everyone responds differently to changing a bad habit. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it! Being open-minded might be the best approach. Perhaps by exploring the methods below, you’ll find one (or a combination of methods) that works for you.
Alternative Ways to Quit Smoking:
- Magnetic Brain Stimulation Therapy (MBST) is a noninvasive technique using high-frequency transcranial magnetic stimulation, which sends electric impulses to parts of your brain related to cravings and impulse control – the prefrontal cortex and the insula specifically. Traditionally used to treat depression and anxiety, recent studies show that MBST increases abstinence rates in smokers with severe nicotine dependence, especially when used in conjunction with NRT. The device, a helmet fitted with coils that deliver the magnetic stimulation, was approved in 2021 by the Food and Drug Administration for use to aid in short-term smoking cessation in adults.
- Acupuncture, an ancient technique based in Traditional Chinese Medicine, uses thin needles to stimulate specific acupuncture points in the body. It has been around for the past 2,500 years and can be applied to a variety of old and modern health issues – from irritable bowel syndrome to sciatica and osteoarthritis, to those struggling with nicotine withdrawal. A practitioner will most likely target the cranial nerves, accessed through your ears, to reduce the urge for cigarettes while also engaging a relaxing response from your body. In between treatments, you can also wear ear seeds at home – a form of acupressure that involves wearing tiny metallic beads with adhesive tape in targeted areas along your ears – as you work through withdrawal symptoms. Studies confirm that acupuncture does indeed help smokers to reduce their habit, or even quit completely, and the effect may last up to an impressive five years.
- Hypnosis is an altered state of awareness in which you may appear to be asleep or in a trance, but actually you’re in a state of deep concentration or focus and are highly open to suggestible thoughts or ideas. Hypnosis is often used to help people manage physical or psychological problems, such as phobias, post-surgical recovery, nausea relief, and even childbirth. In a hypnosis session, a licensed therapist will help you reach a relaxing hypnotic state, and then suggest a change in your behavior, like reaching for a healthier alternative such as a nutritious snack when you have the urge to smoke. Whether or not it actually reduces cravings is up for debate, though for those hospitalized with a smoking-related illness in a study done in 2014, hypnotherapy proved to be more effective than NRT.
- Exercise and movement have been shown to help manage nicotine withdrawal symptoms. In fact, the British Journal of Pharmacology published a study in 2017 revealing how exercise reduced withdrawal symptoms significantly in nicotine-treated mice compared with mice that were sedentary. Exercise also decreases appetite and helps to limit the weight gain so common among ex-smokers. Additionally, aerobic exercises such as running, dancing, swimming, or biking, strengthen and nourish your lungs, chest, and heart, organs that cigarette smoking debilitates over time.
- Yoga, similarly, is a powerful complementary therapy when quitting, as it helps with managing the stress of cravings and withdrawal symptoms. A study in 2012 indicated that abstinence rates remained higher among yoga participants than those that went without through a six-month assessment – and the yoga participants also showed signs of reduced anxiety and improvements in perceived health and well-being when compared with controls. Movement takes your mind off your cravings and can also help you build a new community of friends who also like to exercise instead of smoke! Another bonus.
- Herbs can be surprising allies in your journey toward sobriety. Try The Herb Shoppe's Lung Liberator Smoke Blend, a blend of herbs that can be rolled into an herbal cigarette – addressing both the psychological stress and the physiological withdrawal of quitting. Lobelia, the star ingredient Lung Liberator, is a plant whose main constituent, lobeline, is the same molecular shape as nicotine and fits into similar receptor sites, fooling the brain into thinking it has received nicotine instead. Lobelia is a very strong herb – in large doses, it acts as a deep muscle relaxant and can cause severe nausea so it should NOT be taken with tranquilizers or alcohol. Just a pinch of it is all that is necessary for this smoke blend! To help repair the lungs, Mullein and Yerba Santa are present to expectorate mucus and increase blood flow to the respiratory organs. Mullein also helps add an overall slower burn to the herbal blend once it is rolled and Yerba Santa has an amazing sage-like aroma. Nettle Leaf is an anti-inflammatory and antihistamine while Rose Petals will boost your mood, adding a hint of sweetness. The flower essences of Nicotiana, Golden Yarrow, and Chamomile help you overcome the psychological challenges that addiction often provokes so you can free yourself into a new year and a new you!
Quitting cigarettes is no easy task. That’s why it’s smart to set yourself up with an action plan that is personalized, gentle, realistic, and appealing. These tips above are all that and more – so feel free to mix and match and may this new year be your healthiest one yet!