Auricular Therapy as an Aid for Smoking Cessation
Around a fifth of adults smoke in the UK and while the proportion of people who smoke has fallen significantly since then 1970s (when around 55% of men and 45% of women were smokers), more recently the number of smokers has remained steady. This might be surprising since the dangers of smoking have never been clearer – as many as half of those who smoke will die from a disease related to their habit, which might include heart disease, emphysema or cancer of the lung, mouth or gullet. While there is now increased awareness of smoking-related diseases amongst the public, due to the addictive nature of cigarettes as a result of their nicotine content, the behavioral factors that reinforce the habit and the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, quitting is easier said than done.
Current options to help smokers quit
When it comes to stopping smoking, only 3% of smokers are able to achieve this through will power alone. Current guidelines by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence state that all smokers wishing to kick their habit should be offered measures to aid smoking cessation, which include nicotine replacement therapy or a prescription medication designed to help them quit. They also advise that these are most effective when combined with a behavioral intervention such individual or group counseling or telephone support. However, what about the role of alternative therapies in helping smokers to give up their cigarettes for good? Acupuncture, homeopathy and hypnosis are being increasingly used to aid smokers in freeing themselves from their addiction, though at present there is insufficient evidence for these to be recommended by health-care professionals alongside more mainstream methods. There is however growing interest in the use of auricular therapy for smoking cessation, including the use of magnets within the ear.
The basics of auricular therapy
Acupuncture as a means for smoking cessation has been practiced for around 50 years and that of the ear is widely used; variants on this are auricular acupressure and the use of magnets. It is believed that particular sites around the ear correspond to specific organs, and the use of acupuncture or acupressure manipulates them to exert benefits on the target area. Maps of the ear have been devised to show where the common auricular points lie and recommendations are in place for which areas practitioners target for the purposes of quitting smoking. So how does the application of pressure or magnets to the appropriate acupoints help smokers when they are trying to do away with cigarettes? The benefit is largely thought to come from the fact that stimulating the relevant acupoints is able to bring about changes within the body that help people to tolerate the withdrawal symptoms which occur early during the detox period. Achieving relief from these makes people much more likely to avoid temptation and remain free from cigarettes in the longer term.
Although there is much anecdotal evidence that smokers who have used auricular therapy have received benefits from doing so, limited research has been conducted into this area and the design of some of the studies have made it difficult to draw firm conclusions. For example, in a paper published in 2007 in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the lack of data available relating to other smoking cessation aids used by participants meant that it was difficult to determine the contribution that auricular acupressure made to withdrawal from cigarettes. However, research to date has shown auricular acupressure to be a safe method, which does not carry the same side effects associated with acupuncture.
Further research underway
In acknowledgment of the lack of well designed studies relating to auricular acupressure, a team of researchers in Canada are conducting a piece of work that will aim to provide reliable results and a full evaluation of this as an alternative to medical options for quitting smoking. This research study will also be of benefit as the participants will administer the acupressure themselves, as would be the case when applying magnets; this is in contrasts to other studies which have considered auricular therapy applied by a practitioner. The researchers are equally comparing the application to known acupoints in the ear as well as to those which are not known to have the status of acupoints. This will not only help to reinforce the role of these areas of the ear in smoking cessation, but also whether the degree of accuracy in placement by smokers will affect their chances of success.