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Good news for hypnotists – fewer smokers around

The war against the smoker

All round the world, public health authorities are moving towards stamping out cigarette smoking. In Britain, and many other European countries, smoking and enclosed spaces is totally banned. Some communities have banned smoking in public places outdoors as well. Smokers are increasingly taxed, vilified, and held up as per examples. There has been relentless pressure to stop teenagers starting, advertising has been banned. In Australia, government regulations decree that all cigarette packets have to be printed in a muddy brown colour, covered in horrific pictures of smoking related diseases, and almost indistinguishable from other brands. All of this has had a definite effect.

The anti-smokers are winning

Recent statistics from Britain have shown that the number of smokers in the population has fallen dramatically. The chart below, from the Office of National Statistics, shows a long-term decline in smoking. This is probably irreversible. Social and cultural attitudes have changed. Smoking will probably be extinct by the end of the century.


Chart showing proportion of smokers

On the face of it this might seem like very bad news for hypnotists. However, what the chart shows can be looked at differently. 

Actually, it is the hypnotists who are winning

There is a spectrum of smoking behaviour. Some people find it easy to stop smoking. Other people find it impossible. As more and more smokers stop smoking, the smokers who are left in the population are actually the people who cannot give up without help. Although there are fewer smokers, the smokers who remain are different.

And that is why this is good news for hypnotists. Although there are fewer smokers, these are the ones who most need hypnotherapy to get them off the habit. And as the number goes down, those who are left will be more and more cigarette dependent. Eventually we will be left with only those people who are psychologically dependent.

There will be plenty of business for hypnotists in the years to come.


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smoking when drinking

Smoking when drinking with friends

Every client is different. I had a really interesting and different client for smoking today, and I thought that the approach to smoking that I came up with worth blogging. Her problem was smoking when drinking with friends

She said she had been able to give up in the past once for a year as a teenager. Then on another occasion for four years. But she started again when her ex-husband left. She said she smokes as a way to deal with stress. But her real problem is smoking when she goes out to socialize with friends.

I got her to close her eyes. Then I ask her the question: "What comes to mind when I say the phrase 'You will never smoke another cigarette again?' ".

Smoking when drinking with friends

She said she would feel a bit disappointed at not being able to socialize the way she used to. She said "when I start drinking with friends, it is like something comes over me. I start reaching for a cigarette."

I try to utilize whatever metaphors the client  uses. I asked "What is this something like? Some people feel it like a blanket, others like a teddy bear, some like a cloud. How does it seem to you?"

She said "It is more like a cloud. A dark cloud, like a foggy dark night."

I got her to develop this and she became aware that it came from the right, over her right shoulder. She said "I would like it to go away, because it makes me want to smoke." She had a clear conception of her own metaphor. I developed that.

I asked her to imagine something inside that cloud that would change it, like a lantern or fireworks or something like a pin point of light. She came up with a bright light shining through it from the bottom. A blue light that was turning it white. She said that it was just sitting there, not threatening, doing nothing. Then I got her to examine it further and she said that it was full of voices of her friends urging her to stop, encouraging her to give up.

Not Smoking when drinking with friends

I asked if she would like to move into that cloud, to try moving into that friendly cloud. She said it was like something wrapped around her supporting her.

To test whether it was working, I then got her to imagine being in a bar with friends and she said she felt protected, that she didn't need to smoke to enjoy their company. She was sitting there with her eyes closed, smiling, fully immersed in the metaphor feeling, having led herself into trance without any formal induction.

I finished with some direct suggestions. As a final test for successful change I did a finger lift. I asked her unconscious mind to signal to her by lifting a finger if she was a non smoker. One of her fingers moved. I told her that was her mind guaranteeing that she would never smoke again.

Every smoker is different: this is just another example of using what the client brings to you.

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After stopping smoking

What to do after stopping smoking?

After stopping smoking

Smokers who want to quit often do not really think through what they are going to do after stopping smoking. Smoking 20 a day at 5 to 8 minutes each takes up nearly two hours. That is a lot of time to fill. If you don't give them something to do after stopping smoking, they will start to think about cigarettes again.

Usually, the smoker needs to find something to substitute for the action of smoking, because the desire for a smoke is often triggered by outside circumstances. The external event can be anything. Smokers reward themselves with a cigarette when they finish something: when they get a coffee: and when they just need to get away from a situation. The substitute needs to be something that is socially acceptable, can be done almost anywhere, and takes about the same time as a smoke.

Design a substitute for after stopping smoking

They need some physical thing that can act as a substitute for a cigarette. Specifically, the smoker needs something that will give them a stimulus in their mouth, something to do with their hands, and something that lets them move physically to some other place. Their behaviour after stopping smoking needs to mimic what they did before stopping smoking.

The easiest thing to do is to get them to brush their teeth. The act of brushing their teeth means they have to put something in their mouth, and they get a tingle from the toothpaste. They also have to hold the toothbrush. This gives them something to do with their hands for a few minutes. They have to go to some place with water. This means that they are taken away from whatever trigger was reminding them to smoke.

For the more determined smoker, you can set them a challenge. Tell them that every occasion they used to smoke, what they now do is go outside and run around the block. This takes about the same length of time. This will really take their mind off it, and will remind them of why they want to stop.

You can think up other substitute activities to fit each individual smoker.

These simple techniques will help smokers get over the unfamiliarity of the first few days. And leave them fit or with lovely fresh breath as well!

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Smokers getting marginalised

Are smokers getting marginalised into extinction?

Plain packaging works

In Australia, there is evidence of smokers getting marginalised into extinction. Australia was the first country in the world to introduce plain packaging. Plain packaging is anything but plain. The front and back of all cigarette packs have sickening photos of tobacco related illnesses. All logos and corporate colour schemes are removed and replaced by a drab brown background. The only indication of the brand is a tiny panel on the front.  Every brand name is laid out in exactly the same size and  typeface. There is almost no way of telling one brand from another.

The result of this is that the percentage of people smoking is plummeting in Australia. The government has pledged to keep increasing the cost of cigarettes each year until they are unaffordable. All of this would be expected to lead to what is being seen, a fairly rapid reduction in people smoking.

Smokers getting marginalised

But the government campaign has had an odd side effect. It is not just targeting smokers. It is also having an effect on non-smokers. Over many years laws and regulations have restricted where smokers can smoke. It started with banning smoking in restaurants. Then smoking was banned in pubs.  Later this was extended to every public indoor area. Smoking was banned in jail. Employers started banning smoking in the workplace. So smokers started congregating outside.

This led to the creation of "smoking hot spots" where smokers congregated. To break up this "public nuisance" many states have extended the bans even further. Smoking is banned within 10 m of any playground and on railway platforms, taxi ranks, and bus stops.

The result is that smokers are now being herded into less and less attractive places. The only place they can smoke are places no one else wants to be. The result is a change in public perception. Smokers are getting associated with the places where they smoke. Dirty unpleasant places equals dirty unpleasant people.

So there is increasing social pressure from non-smokers to clear out these smoking places. In the long run this may be just as effective as putting up the price.

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Stop smoking NLP

Stop smoking NLP

Stop smoking NLP programming

I have just noticed the new stop smoking NLP service being offered on the Internet. The marketing approach is low-key. It avoids the common hype of screaming banners and flashing pop-ups. Which is nice.

What I find interesting is the approach. The marketing for this service says that it hypnotises you in order to remove the programming that makes you smoke.

Whether this works or not depends on whether smokers are actually "programmed". If you are not programmed, then you cannot be deprogrammed. The whole idea of "programming" is at the heart of NLP. NLP started back in the 70s when computer programming was the latest and greatest technology. Every business idea wanted to use the term "programming".  But there is no direct evidence that the human mind is actually programmed, in the same way that computers are "programmed".

The marketing also claims that NLP can program you to feel that you have never smoked. And if you feel like someone who has never smoked, then the idea of smoking will just never occur to you. In my experience, this kind of modelling works for a couple of days, at most. At the first touch of stress, the person reverts back to their standard way of responding.

Smoking to feel sad

The second part uses NLP to associate smoking with a feeling. The advertising says that the CD put you into hypnosis, then get you to think of something in your life that made you sad. Then they use NLP to link that feeling of sadness to smoking. So that every time you have a cigarette, a period of sadness overwhelms you. The marketing says that you will find no difficulty in giving up smoking, if every time you have a smoke you feel sad and tearful.

A separate part of the process uses NLP to link not smoking to some joyous event in your life. So that every time you think of not having a cigarette, those feelings rise up in you.

It is certainly an interesting idea. However, NLP has a very spotty record of success. I studied it personally for many years. But I came to the conclusion that most of it just didn't work. The NLP community has never managed to prove that "programming" is anything more than a metaphor.

I would be very interested to know if this actually works.

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Cigarette smoking habits

Cigarette smoking habits are now changing

Cigarette smoking habits are now changing

Cigarette smoking habits are now changing all over the world. But there is nothing new about this. During the history of smoking cigarettes have gone in and out of fashion. When first introduced to England, tobacco was seen as a sign of international travel. Then it was banned totally.  Then it was accepted by everyone, and created huge fortunes for tobacco merchants. Then there was a reaction against cigarettes. Cigarette smoking was blamed for mental illness. Then it flipped again. Tobacco was seen as being good, and smoking was recommended by doctors. And now smoking is evil.

In the 1700's the normal way of smoking tobacco was with a pipe.  Everyone, from the highest to the lowest; men, women and children, smoked clay pipes. However, fashions change. In the UK the more sophisticated classes took to using snuff. Some chewed it. Then, by the 1800s, the upper classes switched to cigars. Only the poorest people used cigarettes. In the USA it was different again. By the middle of the 1800's, the most common way of using tobacco  in the US was chewing it. 

Cigarette smoking habits in the Victorian Era

In Britain, the Crimean War changed smoking habits forever. The Crimean War was immensely popular in Britain, in part at least because of the mythology of the Charge of the Light Brigade. When the troops got home people started to copy what the returned soldiers did. During the war, British troops found themselves fighting in bitter cold and so were allowed to grow beards to avoid frostbite. This started a fashion for beards in all levels of English society.

The result was that most images of people in late Victorian times show them being covered in beards and sideburns. The British troops got to know Turkish troops, their allies. And the British troops started to copy the Turkish habit of rolling tobacco in paper and smoking it. They brought this habit back with them. Ordinary people wanted to copy their heroes, so cigarettes became fashionable. 

At that time manufactured cigarettes were available, but they were handmade, and relatively expensive. The first effective cigarette making machine was patented in 1880. In the next few years, cigarettes dropped in price dramatically. Machine-made cigarettes were much more practical. However, they still had the stigma of being associated with the lower classes. The upper classes in the UK still smoked their cigars. King Edward IV even had cigars named after him.

Cigarettes as social protest

The switch to widespread cigarette smoking was started by artists. At the turn of the 19th/20th century many doctors believed that cigarette smoking caused mental disorders. Therefore anyone who smoke cigarettes was defying social convention. And this suited members of a developing art movement. They wanted to show that they rejected everything that was normal and accepted. Artists were mostly from the upper class at this time. Ordinary people couldn't afford to be artists, they had to work.

So these upper-class artists started smoking cigarettes publicly, in the bars where they met. They started painting cigarettes into their portraits. This was shocking to the rest of the class they lived in. Which delighted the artists. They saw themselves as revolutionaries. They saw themselves as defying all conventions. Added to that, they were openly defying advice about risking sending themselves mad. And could use cigarette smoking as an excuse for any kind of wild behaviour.

Gradually, the association of cigarette smoking with glamorous artists, bohemian living, free love, open sexuality and all the rest of it, gave cigarette smoking a sense of glamour. Movie stars started smoking. This had an immense effect on public ideas about smoking, particularly seeing women smoking on screen.

Cigarette smoking habits dying out

Manufacturers and advertisers jumped onto the boom and promoted cigarettes everywhere. There was so successful at this that public perception changed totally. Cigarettes were now seen as a good thing. The Army actually gave cigarettes free to their soldiers. In the 1950s, doctors would recommend you take up smoking as a way of dealing with stress. Smoking reached epidemic proportions. In some places 80% of people smoked. You could smoke anywhere.

And then major health problems began to be seen in the population. There is nothing new about this. As far back as the 1890s, cigarettes had been called "coffin nails". It was obvious that smoking was unhealthy. But it took another 60 years for public awareness to turn into alarm.

Today, smoking is universally condemned. Governments are moving to stamp out smoking in their populations. So this may well be the very last stage of the history of tobacco consumption.

And we hypnotherapists can play our part too.




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Smoking behaviour

Finding patterns in smoking behaviour

Smokers do not know why they smoke

I had an interesting smoking client today. This man has given up several times but always starts again. He started smoking three weeks ago, after having given up for four months using Champix. Previously he had given up for a year and half , also with Champix.
I kept asking him why he smoked, and what he got from smoking. He said he did not know. I kept pressing him and he said "I'm not the kind of person who analyses things deeply." He did not know why he started smoking again. I asked him how he felt when he give up smoking. He told me that he felt stronger and more active but it stopped him sleeping well. The information about sleeping made me suspect that in fact he had "black and white thinking".
I showed him the dysthymia grid I use. This shows all the signs and symptoms of dysthymia. And he began smiling as he recognised himself there.

Indicators of dysthymia

We talked about dysthymia and it gradually unfolded that he had had it all his life. I explained to him that it was partly genetic and partly environment. I said you will probably find that some members of your extended family are angry, alcoholics, loners and so on. He immediately said "Yes, my grandfather was a drinker. And my father is a worrier".
We went back to talking about why he smoked and what he felt just before he smoked. He could not identify any particular feeling, or situation, which prompted him to smoke. He said "I just like to go outside and have a break now and then".

And that was the clue to why he smoked. He actually had a fairly mild form of dysthymia. He had expectations of how things should go. When he had done what you thought was right at work, and things still went wrong, he got irritated. This is classic dysthymia behavior. In his case he dealt with the irritation by stepping outside and having a smoke. He admitted he often didn't actually want the smoke. He would like one up, smoke half of it, and throw it away. And pace up and down for a while. But he couldn't give up.
He was smoking as a way of dealing with his frustration. As long as he did not understand the source of his frustration he would continue to start smoking again whatever the level of frustration got high enough.

It's not about stopping smoking, it's about stopping starting.

He had already stopped smoking many times. His problem isn't stopping smoking. He knows how to do that. His problem is stopping starting again. So we spent some time discussing how he was going to deal with his frustration. He said  that instead of going out fora smoke he would take my suggestion and go out for a walk around the block.
I therefore put him into hypnosis and used my standard stop smoking routine. But I added in some extra suggestions about monitoring his own level of frustration and using this is a trigger to get more exercise.

I think it very interesting that so many smokers never give a thought to why they smoke, or when they smoke, or look for patterns in it. The pattern is usually fairly obvious once you look for it.

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Smoking blindness

Smoking blindness

My local health district has proudly announced a new smoke-free effort to help people to cut down smoking. It is the result of years of planning and the combined efforts of seven area health boards. The initiative is "employing expert staff dedicated to helping people across the regions to become Smokefree".

The new service offers face-to-face coaching and 24-hour phone support. "The quick coaches will support you through a six-week program and provide free nicotine patches, lozenges and/or gum."
The service is embracing all the latest in technology. As well as weekly face-to-face meetings, they are using texting, videoing, Skyping, and emails to keep constantly in touch with the smokers. And it costs nothing. People wanting to quit get any combination of nicotine replacement therapy patches, nicotine gum, and lozenges free and unlimited.
The government has said publicly that it intends to make the whole country smoke-free by 2025. This initiative is part of that policy. And I applaud anything that is being done to help people stop smoking.

Smoking Blindness

However, this looks like another case of smoking blindness. Everything in this new initiative is based on a model of smoking which regards smoking as a purely physical or biomedical affliction. This reflects the widespread view in medicine that smoking is the result of physical addiction. If you believe that smoking is the result of addiction to tobacco then of course the correct response is to help eliminate the addiction. This is done with pharmaceuticals and encouragement. In my view this is just official smoking blindness.

It is surprising to me that this entire multimillion dollar initiative seems to give no weight at all to the psychological side of smoking. Hypnotherapy is very successful at stopping smoking. It does not use pharmaceuticals, and does not offer ongoing multiweek support. This is because you don't need them.

Smoking is at least as much about the psychology of the smoker as it is about the physical side. In fact I believe that smoking is almost entirely a psychological issue. It is rather disheartening to see yet another instance of smoking blindness by the medical profession. I wish the initiative well, but I really think that they are working on a flawed model.

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stop smoking metaphor

Using a personalised embodied metaphor to stop smoking

Occasionally I get a client who gives me a wonderful example of how people naturally use embodied metaphor. In hypnotherapy, metaphors are usually discussed only as parts of speech. Metaphors are seldom discussed when they represents an embodied feeling. This is a case of using a personalised embodied metaphor to stop smoking.

I had a smoking client this morning who told me that she can stop smoking OK, but something always makes her start again. It's like this thing on her shoulder constantly egging her on to smoke. As the days and weeks go by of not smoking, it gets stronger and stronger until she just has to give in and have a smoke.
This kind of personalised embodied metaphor has always intrigued me. For some reason, I have always been attracted to metaphor therapy. I like the visual element to it, and I like the way metaphor therapy can remove even the most stubborn unconscious behaviour. In this case I did not have a client after this one, so I felt I had some spare time to experiment.

Developing a personalised embodied metaphor 

I began the induction by asking the client to take three deep breaths. Then I stopped the induction and asked her to become aware of the thing on her shoulder. I got her to think about this feeling of smoking, this thing that was always on her shoulder when she stopped. I talked about noticing its colour, size, and how it felt physically on her shoulder.
Even after only three deep breaths, she was clearly in a light trance. She began to describe the thing that appeared on her shoulder. She described it as being a brown mass. Then she said there was white. She said it is tall. I asked how big it was. She told me "about the size of my finger". I asked what it looked like. She said "it's a cigarette", like I was an idiot.

This completely surprised me. Metaphors are usually just that, a metaphor. In other words, something that represents something else. This woman was experiencing it as the thing itself. Usually when I do this exercise I find an imp, or something like a gargoyle, something that represents an evil spirit of some sort. This woman was visualising just a cigarette with a filter tip.

Using the personalised embodied metaphor to stop smoking

However, a metaphor is a metaphor, so I just went with what she gave me. I asked her to confirm that this represented her feeling of needing to smoke, of having to smoke. She said, "Yes, that's what it is". So I asked her what she would like to have happen to it.

She said "I want to break it up into little bits". I told her to do that. I then asked "And what is happening now to that thing?". She said "It is scattered on the ground". I then encouraged her to squish it all into the ground, to utterly destroy the cigarette.
Then I went over it all again. I used the suggestion that any time in the future when she might feel like starting smoking again, she would become immediately aware of this thing on her shoulder. She would reach up, break it into little pieces, scatter it on the ground, and utterly destroy it.
I brought her back out of trance, and we discussed it. She said "I don't quite know why, but I feel that I'm in control of it now".

Metaphor therapy can be quite amazing. Fast, flexible and powerful.

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stop smoking aversion

Spiegel’s method for stopping smoking

Herbert Spiegel was an American physician in North Africa with the US Army during the Second World War. He had learnt to use hypnosis clinically before the war. As an army doctor he had to deal with hundreds of soldiers who were physically injured, but also hundreds more who had what is now called PTSD. As always in any wartime situation he was short of morphine and other drugs. So he turned to hypnosis. He discovered that he was able to greatly reduce the amount of morphine by using hypnosis instead. He was also successful in using hypnosis to reduce battlefield induced psychological injuries.

Spiegel's method

When he returned to civilian life he began to apply hypnosis in his normal medical practice. He published extensively and his ideas on hypnotherapy were widely taken up in the medical profession. Spiegel  moved hypnosis out of the area of stage hypnosis and into the area of proper academic study. He applied his hypnosis treatments to weight loss, depression, and in particular smoking.
He was able to claim consistent success with a single session hypnosis technique known as Spiegel's method. Spiegel's method encourages smokers to keep reminding themselves of three basic ideas. A) smoking is poisoning your body. B) if you keep poisoning your body you will die. C) if you don't want to die, then you have to respect and protect your body.

The method consists of teaching smokers self-hypnosis. The self-hypnosis installs a post hypnotic suggestion to encourage the smoker to repeat A, B, C every two hours, and any time they feel the craving to smoke.
The theory behind this method is that motivation is the key factor in stopping smoking. Spiegel believed that concentrating on preserving your own body is the key to changing any destructive behavior.

Testing Spiegel's method

Academics tested and repeated his technique several times, under scientific controlled conditions, and got consistently good results. About 25% of random smokers will be smoke free a year later.
However, a great deal of research and development has happened in the 40 years since Spiegel introduced his method, and modern hypnotists claim a much higher rate of success.
It would be interesting to go back to the motivation method, and see how today's  smokers accept the idea, and whether it works any better now than it did then.


Source: Spiegel, H. (1970). A single treatment method to stop smoking using ancillary self-hypnosis. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 26, 22-29.

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