Giving up smoking

Complementary approaches to quitting

Many types of support are available privately as well as on the NHS. This section covers people’s experiences of hypnotherapy, acupuncture and other self-help approaches that people have tried to help them quit smoking. Usually people have to pay for these complementary approaches – the investment of £100 or more could encourage people to take the quit attempt very seriously but for some this was just too much to pay. Caroline wanted to try acupuncture and hypnotherapy but thought them too expensive.


Different types of hypnotherapy are offered to help people to quit smoking. Some types aim to strengthen people’s desire to quit, weaken their desire to smoke, or help them concentrate on a smoking cessation programme. There is not enough good quality evidence to be sure whether hypnotherapy is as effective as behavioural counselling.

Sarah had heard good things about hypnotherapy and tried it. She had a panic attack after one of the sessions and didn’t try it again.

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
And so you went to hypnosis at one point?


And it helped. Tell me a bit more about that?

I’m not really sure what to say. It didn’t work for me. But I’d heard miracles about it. How people had gone and said that they, you know, they were going to quit. They not only quit, they started going to gym three times a week and they still do and it was all wonderful. It didn’t work for me. But I think you know, hypnotism, it’s not everybody can go under and they couldn’t hyp me. I couldn’t. I was awake the whole time. They couldn’t whatever it is, go to that. I fought it apparently. So…

And was it during a session that you had a panic attack?

No it was afterwards. It was afterwards. Because I think a little bit of it had come off on me in the fact that my… it’s really weird to explain, like physically I didn’t want to reach for a cigarette. Like my head was saying no don’t do that, no don’t do that, but my body was going you need a cigarette. I was lit… so I was having this battle going on. That I didn’t quite know what to do with. So yes, I found that really difficult. But I think that was probably because I hadn’t gone under enough. I hadn’t gone deep enough for it to really work for me.

Jules paid £100 for hypnotherapy on his first ‘proper’ attempt at giving up. At the time he felt it helped, but a family tragedy a year later led to a relapse.

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Male
The first proper attempt was when I had the hypnosis, but because I had the gum and the patches and they hadn’t worked, I felt I needed I knew I couldn’t just give up like, even though I’d done it when I was 20. I just felt I couldn’t do it. So I had the hypnosis. And I really thought I really would because I did actually want to give up. And I think if I’d just turned up as a smoker and hadn’t thought about it, it wouldn’t have worked. I’d walked out of there and had another cigarette.

But because I’d gone, I really wanted to give up smoking. I paid a hundred quid for the privilege of being hypnotised. I knew damn I wasn’t going to give in. I just thought I was going to….

I mean it worked for a year I don’t know why I think it was just, I think it was a mental thing. I felt I had been hypnotised and therefore I didn’t need to smoke. But looking back on it, I don’t actually know if I was hypnotised. I don’t even know if I had if I actually believe. I don’t know. Because throughout the actual process I was just sat there in the chair and I didn’t feel any different. All I was aware of was this chap talking to me, saying you’ve got to give up smoking and you want to give up smoking and you’re not going to smoke, and you’re going to keep repeating, "I am a non smoker and I will be a non smoker for the rest of my life". That phrase is still in my head, but I don’t if I actually was hypnotised and I just wanted to believe, because I wanted to give up I want to believe and it worked for me.

But as I said earlier what was my downfall was personal problems. Tragedy in the family. And then it all fell down. But I don’t know if I actually I definitely was hypnotised or went for any session to be hypnotised but whether I was hypnotised I don’t know. I certain wasn’t running round pretending I was a frog or anything like that, but you know, yes, it’s all a weird one I don’t know. I’d have to look more into hypnosis what it actually is.

I understand that people going through problems listening to this chap, but people going through hypnosis on the regular basis, self-hypnosis, when you’re driving, driving in the car and you do the route on a daily basis, and there are times when you can’t remember getting from certain point to certain point. You’re mind apparently is in a self hypnosis. It’s self preservation. Your mind’s not going to let you do anything that’s going to cause you harm, but it shuts down and you think you never you maybe away with the fairies but you’re still driving that car, you’re still safe, but it’s not all there a bit. So…

Are you seeing anything sort of looking back at hypnosis had I asked you say if you had gone out of a session, have you been hypnotised? What might you have said to me?

I think I probably would have said, “Yes.” Because I’d just paid a hundred quid, god damn it I was hypnotised. But yes, I honestly don’t know if I was hypnotised. I think it was a tool that I needed I still don’t know whether I believe in hypnosis. As a real tool, I mean it’s certainly I don’t know. I mean I really don’t know whether that’s how you feel when you’re hypnotised. My mindset at the time though was I want to give up smoking. This is a tool.

It was almost like being brainwashed. This bloke was going on about, “You’re not going to smoke. You’re not going to want to smoke.” And it was basically around this chap saying this. At the time you feel opposite and your body’s going to say no, your mind’s going to say no. I don’t know. It just, looking back on it, I have got this feeling that I was, I actually thought ya di, ya di, ya di, ya di. But I was like I want to give up smoking so I believed it. I could be wrong. But that’s how I feel about it.
Roger’s wife gave up successfully using six sessions of hypnotherapy, but after Roger had had three sessions he started smoking again.

Chris used a CD by Paul McKenna at home. It was very relaxing and but she isn’t sure whether it helped her quit.

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
Well you read the book first and then you listen to his CD and he tells you, all the, there was a programme when he went on stage and he tried to say to this person about stopping to smoke. One of his background people was listening to him and after the programme the person in the background stopped smoking. It was strange. Because all that Paul …


Paul McKenna was saying it was rubbing off on one of his workmates. You know, the camera bloke or the lighting bloke whoever, and after that he stopped smoking and he believes that it was Paul McKenna. So I have got the CD and he, he sort of counts you down into a trance, you’ve got to sit in a quiet room or lay down, however you feel comfortable. Close your eyes if you want and just listen to what he’s saying to you. And I used to think well if I’m not in a trance, is it doing me any good? But you do listen to it all the way through. It’s very calming and you can even fall asleep and apparently it’s still working on you. So whether that helped I don’t know, you know, but it was interesting.

In the olden days with the spittoons and where they used to just spit into these spittoons, he said, and that’s what’s in your lungs. Just imagine the picture of looking into one of those. I mean they’re horrible, it used to turn my stomach to even think about it. He said that’s what’s in your lungs, you know, and every time you light a cigarette you think of that. Or he said, try and think of something really, really nasty so each time you light a cigarette bring that thought forward into your mind, and that will turn you off the cigarettes. Do, I can’t remember, do something with your hands as well. And when you’ve finished it, you won’t want a cigarette. I can’t remember everything. There’s lots of different things in the book. You know, it’s worth a read, you know, and the video was very nice, because it was nice and calming and relaxing and there was soft music and little bells here and here, One in one ear and he’d say, you’ll hear this in your right ear, and you’ll hear this in your left ear. Sometimes there’s two things going at once. But it’s, it’s very good, it’s very relaxing. So I think may be that did help.

When Neil was attending cardiac rehab, a nurse wanted to try hypnotism on him to help him quit his 60-a-day smoking habit. After only two sessions he never wanted to smoke again.

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Age at interview: 64
Sex: Male
And I felt, I was feeling better each session I had. And of course they ask you a load of questions when you first attend, and want to know, “Do you smoke?” “Yes.” “How many?” “About 60?” “How many?” “60.” “It’s a wonder you’re still alive.” “I know. I was nearly dead though.” [Laughs]. And after a few weeks [name of nurse] come over to me, and she said, “Look I’ve been practising hypnotism and I’d really like to take you on and try and get you to stop.” I said, “You’ll never do it [name of nurse]. Never in the reign of pigs pudding, I’ve tried everything.” She said, “Well I’d still like to try.” I says, “Oh all right then.”

Anyway it took a few weeks and then she phoned me, and she said, “Can you come up?” Because she’s a very busy woman, there’s a lot of people are having heart attacks. And I went up there, and she’d got a side office there. Lay on the bed, and I can remember the words.What was it like?

But I knew what was happening. But the words that pressed my buttons was, “I want you to take yourself back to when you were young and fit.” What she said after that I have not got a clue. Because I was thinking, blimey, yes, I used to run the mile, I used to do cross country running. And look at me now I couldn’t run fifty metres. I can’t, I can’t even walk fifty metres. And that’s all for the rest of the session that’s all I was thinking of. And I could just picture myself running, you know, and I think that was the bit that did it actually, the hypnotism.

So she give me one more session and I just, just never wanted to smoke again. So I told the no smoking clinic. I said, “I don’t need these tablets anymore.” She went mad at me.
Other people said it was important to be in “the right frame of mind” or to be calm to deal with the cravings. Anna was told that at the Allen Carr clinic they did ‘something like hypnosis’ but she hadn’t felt this had happened at all. Carol had decided, after spending £400 on 6 hypnosis sessions, that she was not very responsive to being hypnotised.


Acupuncture is a treatment that uses needles to stimulate particular parts of the body and has been used to lessen withdrawal symptoms from giving up smoking; there is not enough evidence to say whether it is effective.

Roger’s acupuncturist used points in his ear to help lessen cravings. It seemed to work when the points were on one ear but not the other.

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Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
I later had a session of acupuncture, where they put a little needle in there [points to ear] for a fortnight and then they take it out, and they put another needle in there for a fortnight [points to other ear], and when you feel like you need a cigarette you just put your finger tip on the round little bobble on the needle and just go gently rub it, and it kills the craving. Well when it was in this ear [points to left ear] it did and it was wonderful, and for a week I cut down by about 50% and the second week I hardly smoked. I had to go back to the acupuncturist, out it came. Another one in this ear [points to right ear]. It didn’t work at all. I smoked as much with this one, I was going like that [rubs right ear]. I was almost pushing the bloody needle into my brain to… and I didn’t, I just carried on smoking as normal. I went back to the acupuncturist and said, “Could you swap me back.” “No, sorry it will affect the energy channels in your body if I put it back in there.” So I thought ‘can’t have that.’ So, that didn’t work.
Self-help books

Various self-help books on the market aim to help people understand why they smoke, and to support their attempts at quitting. One of the better known is ‘Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking’. Some people reported very positive experiences of reading this book, even if they were not actually planning to quit. Part of the appeal of the book is that Allen Carr was himself a 60-a-day smoker so as Lisa said, “You’re listening to someone who really knows what it’s like”.
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Though Lisa didn’t intend to quit, when a friend lent her the Allen Carr book both she and her partner found it helped them to give up and become happy non-smokers.

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Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
I stopped smoking about, I think its twelve years ago. I didn’t actually intend to stop smoking when I did. A friend of mine had stopped, and she told me that she’d read this book and she’d been stopped for two weeks. She said, she’d lend me the book, and I was curious, but didn’t really have any plans to stop smoking and that was it, I read the book and I stopped. And it was the Allen Carr book.

And so you didn’t have any plans before then?

No. Well I would have liked to have stopped I think every smoker would like to stop, but just the thought of trying to do it and getting round to doing it, I kept putting it off and I think the idea of all that suffering and how hard it was going to be, I just put it off, so no I didn’t try.

So when you got the Allen Carr book. Can you tell me about that?

Well I just read it with an open mind, because I’d got nothing to lose. The funny thing was that my partner who was a very serious smoker, he picked it up and said, “Oh what’s this load of rubbish?” And I said, “Don’t read that. That’s mine. My friend’s given it to me to read.” And he, he started reading and we were sort of fighting over it. He finished the book before I did, and he stopped smoking and he was worse, he was much worse than me. Well I don’t know whether you can be a worse smoker than someone else, but yes, he stopped smoking and then I had to catch up and finish the book and stop smoking too. It was really strange. Really easy, yes.

Tell me about how it was easy?

Well I don’t know it’s just the way it’s written and the way it makes you feel by the end of the book you just don’t want to do it anymore. You don’t feel about it, you don’t, you don’t feel the same way about smoking as you did. It’s not something you can imagine before you read the book. You can’t imagine feeling any different about it. But you do. Yes, it was easy. And you’re kind of looking forward to stopping smoking by the end of the book. Because you have to smoke while you read. I remember going for a meal before I’d stopped smoking. And then a week, the week that I stopped, just after a few days of not smoking, I went to the same restaurant and had the same meal, and it tasted amazing. Just so much better. Already my, my taste buds, had I don’t know, woke up, recovered and yeah, instantly, it felt amazing, and really easy.

Can you remember about the book what you were reading that made it like this?

Some, well for some people I think it’s a specific light bulb moment, and you, but it wasn’t for me. It was quite subtle. It’s, I can’t explain it, because it’s, it’s very supportive the book is, and it’s unlike any, anything you’ve ever read. I can’t explain how it works. But it sort of undoes all the, the perception you have about smoking. You know, when you try and stop doing something, the conflict in your head. I want to do it. No you can’t. I want to do it. No you can’t. It takes that away, so then there’s no conflict anymore. And the difference between I think stopping smoking and using the book, and stopping smoking, just trying to stop using will power or whatever, you become a happy non smoker when you’ve read the book, because you’re just glad you don’t do it anymore. Whereas with other methods, I believe you’re craving still, you can be bit miserable, because you want to do this thing you don’t think you should be doing. And that’s the magic of the book, you really are free from it. Totally free, as if you’d never smoked. Which is amazing.

Sue read the Allen Carr book twice. It not only helped her to stop but also to be confident that she would never smoke again.

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Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
Well the, actually, I must admit I first started reading, thinking I know what you’re doing. I know exactly what you’re doing. Because it starts, you know, it makes like I’m not going, I’m not going to tell you, I’m not going to tell you, you know, it’s bad for your health and things like that. And you think yes, you’re telling me that, but you’re not telling me that [laughs].

So, I thought, the first time I read it, it kind of half got in my head. I knew that I should pack up and it was right and it is a book which tells you everything you already know. So it is telling you that it’s bad for you, but in a way that is not condescending or it’s not like your doctor, saying, “Oh just pack up it’s bad for you, you’re going die.” Its making you think, yes, but I know it’s bad for you, rather than somebody else telling you. So, yes, it is very repetitive obviously because it’s... I assume it’s like cognitive therapy really, you know, it’s just self help from a book.

So I actually enjoyed it. And I’ve really, I actually felt that I knew Allen Carr at the end of it. It is really strange, and I missed him when I finished the second time. The first time, as I say I was a little bit dismissive, because [because I lasted a little while and started again, and the second time it really, really jarred in my head. And I kept it for a while because I thought, just in case I slipped off the wagon, I’ve got it there. But I did actually give it away eventually, because I know I don’t need it any more. But yes, I did, it was a very odd experience to read a book that’s telling you everything you know. And you’re in denial. So...

So can you tell me what happened on the second reading of it, if you see what I mean?

What happened on the second time that didn’t happen on the first time?


Nothing, nothing happened different. It just gelled. It just actually clicked into my head that it was right and I knew it was right, and I did actually know, sat in that chair over there and, I’d left myself one cigarette, because the book tells you not to stop smoking. So that you’re not battling while you’re reading it, but as you’re reading it, you’re getting less and less that you want to. So I kept one cigarette and I really wanted the last cigarette and I went outside and I knew as I was smoking it I was never going to smoke again. And I just could, I couldn’t believe it. Because he’d said, you know, at the beginning of the book, he says that he knew he was smoking his last cigarette, and I thought, that, you know, that’s an incredible thought that you could actually smoke it knowing, and I just went outside, and actually I hadn’t decided it was going to be that day either. Until later in the day. I decided, it was the Sunday and I decided I wouldn’t go out, and normally I would go out on a Sunday. So I had this, I had this packet of cigarettes and you know, I kind of timed them and left myself with one and then I went outside and smoked it. Bye bye smoking and never smoked again. Never even thought about it.
Other people had read the book and had been helped by some of the advice. The book had helped to wean Anna off smoking but she had started again after a while. Tam had been helped on one of her attempts at quitting but then she had got drunk and “fell off the wagon”.

Caroline read the Allen Carr book but “it was too much information”; she preferred her advice in “bite-size chunks”.

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Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
So you were saying that you had had the Allen Carr book?

I did read it. Yes. It didn’t do a lot for me if I’m honest. I didn’t, well I say I didn’t agree with his way of thinking. It’s not that I didn’t agree it, just reading a book, and so reading too much it almost just goes over your head, which is why these very little interactive sort of chunks that they send you through, bite size pieces should I say, they’re so much better. There’s just too much information from him.
Other approaches

Substitution, for example having a glass of water or cup of tea or coffee instead of a cigarette, was a popular method. However this was not a good idea for those who had always accompanied a drink with a cigarette. Going for a walk, eating a piece of fruit, eating sweets or chewing gum (whether nicotine gum or ordinary gum) were all tried as substitutes and distractions.

Haseen and others talked about trying aversion therapies. He left a cigarette in a glass overnight and then drank the (disgusting) liquid. He said this approach did not stop him smoking although the taste was so revolting that he could not eat all day.

Mariam had tried self-help books, CDs, and tapes, as well as chewing gum and nicotine replacement patches, but she still smoked. John said that the relaxation tapes, intended to help smokers find a way to feel calm without a cigarette, irritated him at the time but looking back he can see what they were getting at. Sarah found that informal “coaching” from a colleague had helped her more than any other approach that she had tried.

(Also see ‘Giving up with others and online support’).

Last reviewed August 2018.
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