Quit Smoking NOW with Acupuncture

With the recent passing of Colorado Proposition EE, Tobacco and E-Cigarette Tax Increase for Health and Education Programs Measure (2020), the cost of using tobacco products in the state of Colorado is higher than ever. For smokers in Colorado, the estimated increase in taxes will be $222 in the state budget year 2021-22, increasing to $291 by state budget year 2027-28¹. The minimum price for a pack of cigarettes will be $7 in 2021, and will increase to $7.50 by 2024². Tobacco products will see the current 40% tax rate increase to 62% by 2027, and the new nicotine tax aimed at e-cigarettes will be applied at 30% starting in 2021 and go up to 56% starting in July 2024. These taxes are mainly incurred on Coloradans in lower income brackets. Of the 14 percent of Coloradans who use tobacco products, 80% of those individuals make less than $40,000 per year.  Financial incentives aside, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the US, accounting for 1 out of every 5 deaths in the US each year or 480,000 deaths³.  For context, the covid-19 pandemic has taken the lives of 269,763 Americans in approximately the last year⁴, many of whom were significantly immunocompromised and suffering from two or more comorbidities. These statistics beg an important question – why is smoking cessation not a greater public health concern?

Why you should quit smoking

Smoking is strongly linked to chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Smoking damages your hair, skin, and nails leading to premature aging on the inside and out. Smoking eats away at the cartilaginous cushioning between our joints and promotes arthritis and joint pain.  Smoking promotes a chronic chest and neck dominant breathing pattern leading to headaches and muscle tightness in the upper shoulders and neck. Second hand smoke exposure can create these problems for family members and friends.  

The detrimental effects of smoking are related to oxidative stress, which occurs when the delicate balance between pro-oxidant and antioxidant systems in our bodies can no longer be maintained. Regular smoking increases the amount of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) in the body, overwhelming the antioxidant defense systems in the body.  Free radicals are circulating molecules that have an unpaired electron. In an attempt to bind the unpaired electron, free radicals steal electrons from normal, healthy cells in the body and alter their structure and function. Damaged cells do not function properly and are flagged by the immune system for destruction resulting in widespread inflammation. Damaged cells can also become cancerous as normal cell replication processes are disrupted. The cell walls of our arteries and veins are damaged by smoking, increasing the likelihood of artheroscletoric plaque formation and subsequent heart disease and stroke. The good news? Your body starts healing within one day of quitting smoking. 

How does acupuncture help you stop smoking?

Acupuncture helps you quit smoking by decreasing the mental and physical stress involved with quitting, as well as helping to diminish cravings. The most powerful detox points for alcohol abuse, drug addiction, and nicotine are located on the ear. The treatment of these areas is referred to as auricular acupuncture, and the protocol I use is based on the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) nicotine cessation protocol. I also incorporate specific body points which help improve blood flow, decrease stress, and increase the likelihood of successfully quitting. Additionally, we use semi permanent acupuncture needles (seeds) which are implanted into the ear like a small piercing and stay there for 3-5 days providing constant stimulation of the acupuncture point. I use seeds at the designated nicotine point which is located on the lower tragus and can be manually stimulated by the patient when a craving is felt.  

Combining acupuncture with patient education seems to be more effective than acupuncture or education alone⁵. I encourage my patients to adopt some of the strategies found on state sponsored quitting websites, like Colorado QuitLine. Beneficial strategies I’ve used with patients include telling loved ones when and why you are going to quit, making a list of all of the items or experiences you can buy with the money normally spent on tobacco, disposing of all tobacco or tobacco related products at the house or in the car, setting a strict quit date instead of trying to slowly wean yourself off, and to write out a daily health journal to track improvements in energy, mood, and pain levels.

Case Study 

I recently treated a patient at the clinic for smoking cessation. For this case study, we will refer to the patient as Laura. Laura is a middle aged female who has been a pack a day smoker for 20 years. She was spending upwards of $1,000 per month on tobacco products. Laura came to me wanting more than anything to quit smoking. She had tried everything from nicorette to patches, and had even tried hypnosis. However, nothing seemed to work and the nicorette made her nauseous. She was open to the idea of acupuncture because it had been a helpful treatment for a low back injury I was seeing her for.  We settled on a treatment plan of 8, 30 minute visits over a 4 week period. Laura set her quit date in conjunction with her first day of acupuncture. 

Within a week, the immediate improvements in her health were palpable. Her skin was clearer and was less red and inflamed. Her stiff and leathery muscles felt relaxed and pliable. Her breathing was slower, deeper, and less labored. She seemed less stressed, and had a calm nature about her. The acupuncture helped her deal with the day to day stress of quitting, and also mitigated cravings and withdrawal symptoms. On top of this, the chronic low back pain she was experiencing dramatically improved as her body’s internal healing mechanisms were better allowed to do their job. Overall, her transformation was inspirational. It motivated me to want to help more people struggling with nicotine addiction create lasting change in their lives. I’m happy to report it is now 3 months since her quit date and she has not had a cigarette since.

If you or someone you know smokes and wants to quit but doesn’t know where to start, please direct them to this article or me personally. It would be a privilege to assist you or a loved one quit for good and to help you realize the immense financial and health benefits of quitting today.  

Post Written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC.  Check out his bio here

Sources and References 

  1. Colorado Proposition EE, Tobacco and E-Cigarette Tax Increase for Health and Education Programs Measure (2020)
  2. Proposition EE: Taxes On Nicotine Products, Explained
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the United States.
  4. CDC COVID Data Tracker
  5. Auricular Acupuncture, Education, and Smoking Cessation: A Randomized, Sham-Controlled Trial
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