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Time to Stub Out the Smoking Habit

This Sunday, 31st May, marks World No Tobacco Day - part of a United Nations-backed campaign to encourage people worldwide to stub out the fags once and for all. Smoking remains one of the most deadly habits on the planet, despite all the efforts to raise awareness of its dangers and to make it less accessible. Here at Phoenix, smoking is probably the most common form of addiction I see in the therapy room but it's almost always linked to some underlying cause of stress - and unearthing this root cause is the key to breaking the habit. In fact the number of smoking-related inquiries I've received has soared during the Covid-19 crisis as many former smokers have relapsed due to stress and boredom caused by the lockdown.

More than a billion people worldwide are estimated to be regular tobacco smokers despite all the warnings and efforts to educate people regarding mortality rates. Humans have never been more informed about the disastrous effects of smoking, and yet the simple “Smoking kills” message is proving less than effective in cutting the death toll. Statistics show the number of smokers in the UK has dropped by 1.6 million over the last six years, but it still kills about 115,000 people a year and remains the biggest cause of preventable ill-health such as cancer, heart attacks and strokes. It is estimated to cost the UK £11 billion per year, of which £2 billion is spent by the NHS. Statistics show 17% of men in the UK still smoke and just over 13% of women do.

There are around 4000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, of which at least 250 are known to be harmful and 50 are known to cause cancer. These deadly poisons include benzene (a known carcinogen associated with leukaemia), formaldehyde (embalming fluid), ammonia (toilet cleaner), acetone (nail polish remover), tar, arsenic (rat poison), hydrogen cyanide (gas chamber poison), carbon monoxide (car exhaust fumes) and of course nicotine – one of the most highly addictive substances known to man. An average smoker will puff 200 times per day and 72,000 times a year and each puff delivers nicotine to the brain in just seven seconds. Smoking when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed may seem calming, but nicotine is a powerful stimulant – leading to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.

My approach to treating smoking has evolved over the years. In the past I used to deploy a hypnotic technique known as a “yuk anchor” to hardwire into a client’s subconscious the connection between a cigarette and the cocktail of lethal poisons it contained so that they would thereafter be unable to even look at a fag without associating it with ill-health and death. This technique, although simple and in many ways powerfully effective, also has its flaws however as it fails to address the root cause underpinning the behaviour. People who smoke are almost always doing so as a form of stress relief so a therapist can actually inadvertently do more harm than good by taking away their crutch without addressing the underlying cause of the person’s stress. This is why so many people fail in their attempts to quit the habit. They try cold turkey, vaping, nicotine patches and a myriad of other techniques, but invariably end up reverting to smoking at the first sign of stress. By identifying the reason why a person smokes in the first place – and addressing the cause at its root – the chances of long-term success are increased significantly.

To cite an example, I once had a client who came to me for help with smoking cessation. I asked them how old they were when they first started smoking and they said they were fourteen. So I then asked whether anything else significant had happened in the client’s life at around that age. They replied, quite matter-of-factly, that it was at that age that they had started to be abused by their father. It was immediately apparent from that moment that the problem requiring to be addressed was not the smoking but the abuse. The client had only ever taken up smoking at the age of fourteen as a means of coping deep psychological trauma. The use of a yuk anchor in such a case would therefore have been completely inappropriate. Yes, the client would have left my office feeling repulsed by the thought of cigarettes, but they would also have been deprived of the coping mechanism they had come to rely upon as a means of dealing with their underlying issues. By tackling the problem at its root, and healing the damage done by the abuse, we were able to achieve deep and lasting change so that the client no longer required the use of smoking as a crutch.

Before making a decision to quit smoking, first ask yourself why you smoke in the first place. When do you tend to smoke? Is it purely habitual or does something trigger the impulse? Why did you take up smoking in the first place? When did you start? Do you have a high amount of stress and pressure in your life and, if so, what's causing it? A good therapist will be able to help identify such issues and to break the connection between the smoking and the underlying stressor. Such methods are far more powerful and effective than simply hypnotising someone to feel sick at the sight of a cigarette - a technique which is likely to provide only a temporary solution at best, rather like putting a sticking plaster on a broken leg.

Because of the strong link between smoking and anxiety, any form of activity which helps to reduce stress will also make it easier to quit the fags. These can include taking walks and other forms of healthy exercise, practising breathing exercises such as those used in yoga-based meditation, paying greater attention to diet and making sure you laugh several times a day. There's a lot of truth in the old saying that laughter is the best medicine. Every time you smile or laugh, you release serotonin and endorphins that make you feel good, boost the immune system and help clear the body of toxins. The happier you are, the less likely it is that you’ll be prone to colds, flu and other bugs because your immune system is functioning at optimum efficiency so your resistance to infection is much higher. Studies have shown that fake laughter is just as effective as the real thing, which means you don’t have to wait for something funny to set you off - just try to act out laughter and see what happens.

Here are some other tried and tested techniques to help you quit smoking:

Be positive. Even if you have tried and failed to quit smoking in the past, you can still be positive about trying it again. Look at what the previous experience was like. What would you do differently this time around?

Eat foods that support quitting smoking. Certain foods can make cigarettes more satisfying, while others have the opposite effect. While you’re quitting, try and avoid meat. Instead, opt for cheese, fruit, and vegetables.

Change what you drink. Your choice of drink can also affect how the cigarettes taste. Avoid any fizzy drinks, tea, or coffee. Instead, opt for water and juice.

Get some support. If you have friends or family that may want to quit smoking, suggest that you give up smoking together. There will also likely be a local support group that you could visit. The expert advice you get from these support groups will give you a better chance of quitting.

Exercise. Getting regular exercise, even if it is only 5 minutes a day, will ensure that your body produces chemicals that can reduce cravings.

Learn new ways to relax. Nicotine can help people relax, so when you quit, it’s important to find a different way to de-stress. Your favourite music or a massage may be an option. A new hobby can also help keep you busy and relaxed.

Enjoy immediate health benefits. Just 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your heart rate will return to normal. Within the day, the levels of carbon monoxide will fall back to its normal levels. And within 2-3 weeks, your chances of suffering a heart attack will also reduce.

Have a spring clean. To remove all of the reminders of your time smoking, and to reduce temptation, give your house a deep clean. Clean your carpets, clothes, and upholstery. If you used to smoke in the car, clean that too.

Keep your hands and mouth busy. When you are out at a party, consider holding your drink with the same hand as you would a cigarette. Use a straw to keep your mouth busy.

Use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). There are numerous patches, tablets, lozenges, gum, and nasal sprays that you can use to reduce cravings. These products all contain nicotine, which is what you are craving when you want to light a cigarette.

Make a list of reasons why you want to quit. Why do you want to quit smoking? Write a list of reasons and carry it around with you. Read your list back to yourself whenever you’re tempted to have a cigarette.

Reward yourself. When you no longer experience any cravings, reward yourself. Smoking is an expensive habit, so along with the health benefits that you’ll gain from quitting, you’ll also be able to save money too. You could use this saved money to treat yourself to something fun.

Even if you’ve tried to quit smoking before, try these strategies to take another go at it. This time can be the time you quit for good. We're about to launch the Phoenix store on our company website from where you'll be able to purchase and download a range of self-hypnosis audios to deal with all kinds of stress and addiction, including smoking, as well as eBooks and self-help guides. Check out our website at or drop us an email at for further information or to book an appointment.

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