Tell me lies about nicotine

by Chris Holmes

When I was growing up in the 1960s smokers did NOT think they were drug addicts. Smoking was a habit – perhaps a dirty one, but just a habit nevertheless – and the concept of nicotine replacement products like gum and patches did not exist. But the concept of nicotine replacement did!

The idea of substituting one form of nicotine for another was not conceived originally as ever leading to a saleable product to help people quit, but as “proof” that tobacco smoking was a drug addiction and that the “need” was specifically a need for nicotine. And it was not conceived by any special expert in addiction studies, but by a Scottish General Practitioner called Lennox Johnston.
Now I know that you’ve probably never heard of Lennox Johnston – hardly anyone has – but through the 1930s, 40s and 50s he was busy driving the British Medical Association mad by being well ahead of his time on the subject of tobacco and lung cancer. In 1942 he published an article in The Lancet which declared tobacco smoking to be the main cause of lung cancer, long before it was finally established as the truth in 1969.

The Medical Establishment don’t like being told things by underlings, and Johnston was by no means a member of the Establishment. He wasn’t even English, for God’s sake! So they weren’t going to listen to him or allow him to have credit for anything. He was repeatedly refused funding to conduct research into the link between smoking and lung cancer, which was given instead to Richard Doll and Bradford Hill.

Meanwhile Johnston was also experimenting with pure solutions of nicotine, regularly injecting himself with the stuff and twice nearly dying as a result because nicotine is extraordinarily poisonous even in tiny quantities. Later he assembled 35 “volunteers” who were habitual smokers and gave them regular injections of nicotine whenever they felt a desire to smoke. Some of them came, in time, to prefer the injection to the cigarette – just as we see some smokers, today, coming to prefer the vape stick to the cigarette, or the nicotine lozenge, or the mouth spray or whatever.

So: case closed! Nicotine is what smokers desire and any form of nicotine will do – right?

Trouble is, it doesn’t work. In January 2012, Harvard University published a study that confirmed my own published claims from five years before, namely that Nicotine replacement therapy DOESN’T WORK AT ALL. They looked at the success rates of all the nicotine products at the one year mark and found that the success rate (6%) was exactly the same a willpower alone. This is because smoking isn’t a drug addiction, it’s a compulsive habit.

Stopping Smoking: Knowledge is Power

by Chris Holmes

This message came in this week:

“Hi Chris, I went on the NHS Stop Smoking programme 11 months ago. They gave me Champix [Chantix in the USA]. Felt odd and stopped taking it after 4 days. Then read excerpts from your book, which made me realise I wasn’t addicted. I have never wanted a cigarette since then.

“Many friends of mine asked me how I gave up. They didn’t really believe me at the time, but out of thirty or so smokers, around 15 had given up with no difficulty within 3 or 4 weeks of talking to me! Just from realising they weren’t addicted! I write because I am on the verge of starting a Quit Smoking Club in North East London, and I would very much like your blessing to quote your researches (with full acknowledgement, of course!) I would also like your permission to give people links to sales points for your books.

“I think you’ve done wonderful work – if it were not for you I would probably still be smoking, or at the least still wanting to smoke! I tried a cigarette 4 months ago to prove to myself I wouldn’t get “re-addicted”; but I only
managed two draws before my will to smoke failed!”

Permission granted, of course! This is why I called the second volume of the book “A Change Of Mind”. I stopped smoking in 1999 because my perception of it changed. It was easy. Since then I have helped thousands of smokers do the same, through my work as a therapist specialising in the area of tobacco, drugs, alcohol and gambling habits.

If you would like to read excerpts from my work, click on the ‘Read The Book’ button above – but give it thirty seconds to load! Or you can click on Buy The Book and get the paperback version, or download the ebook.

more info

Nicotine is not a drug

by Chris Holmes

Let me explain why the nicotine story is the biggest case of mistaken identity in medical history:

The early promotion of tobacco in Western Europe was based on two simple things: belief in medicinal properties it doesn’t really have, and the age-old phenomenon of people copying one another and trying to make an impression, otherwise known as ‘fashion’.

The tobacco plant’s Latin name is Nicotiana Tabacum, named after the French Ambassador to Portugal, Jean Nicot de Villemain.  In 1560 he was sending tobacco and tobacco seeds to Paris from Brazil, and promoting their medicinal use – mistakenly, as we now know.  At the time, lots of plants were reckoned to be beneficial to health and according to a book published by Spanish physician Nicolas Monardes in 1571, tobacco was widely credited with curing 36 ailments including toothache, worms, lockjaw and cancer.

So originally, tobacco was supposed to be good for you.  Gradually, over the years everyone realised that it did not cure worms, lockjaw or anything else – in fact it was just a filthy habit.  No-one imagined or suggested at the time that this was recreational drug use or intoxicating in any way, because it obviously isn’t.  That is why, even today, people are allowed to smoke tobacco and then drive cars or operate heavy machinery – even pilot an aircraft.  If smoking tobacco was recreational drug use, would that be permitted?  Of course not!

When any individual first tries smoking, it is because they want to sample something they have not been permitted to try before.  As a smoking cessation specialist, I have asked thousands of smokers why they picked up a cigarette in the first place, and the answers are predictable:

because my mates were doing it

because I wasn’t allowed to

because I thought it was cool

because I wanted to be all grown up…

In twelve years, no smoker has ever said to me: “I started smoking for the effects of nicotine.”  Not one.  But most of them can easily recall what that first experience of tobacco was like:

it was revolting

it made me feel dizzy and sick

I felt faint, had heart palpitations and then threw up…

All very common experiences.  So, whatever it was that made us pick up the second cigarette, it wasn’t because we enjoyed the experience of smoking the first one.  It was the same thing that made us pick up the first one: mischief, rebellion, peer pressure, a rite of passage, trying to grow up quick – any of those.  The fact is, we weren’t doing it for the effects of nicotine, AND WE KNEW THAT, THEN.  Curiosity, a bit of devilment… but we were also doing it for appearances, how we imagined it made us look: older, tougher, cooler, less like a kid.

It was only later that we came to believe it was all about nicotine, because we were TOLD to believe that.  But believing that is no different from believing that it cures worms or lockjaw, isn’t it?  That misinformation also came from Doctors.

Nicotine Receptors

Smokers are told that their cravings are a result of the nicotine receptors in their brains “going crazy for nicotine” as the nicotine replacement advert puts it.  [Hint: those guys are trying to sell you nicotine!]  But nearly all smokers will have noticed that their cravings switch on and off automatically, depending upon what they are doing.  They switch on in the morning having been off all night long, they switch off when the smoker boards a bus or a train, back on when a smoking opportunity arises then off again when they walk into a hospital or a cinema.

A small number of smokers struggle with these everyday restrictions, but that is only because they have personally chosen to resent the restriction.  The vast majority of smokers accept the new restriction pretty quickly, and then after that it doesn’t bother them.  Most smokers tell me that they can manage journeys by aircraft surprisingly easily, but then immediately add: “But as soon as it gets near the time to land, I’m thinking of having a cigarette…”  Nevertheless they are puzzled as to why their “nicotine receptors” seemed to be remarkably well-behaved for most of the seven hours on the flight!

Question: how could the nicotine receptors in your brain possibly know that you just stepped on to an aircraft?

Answer: they don’t, and they would have no way of understanding that social restriction anyway. So why aren’t they “going crazy” right throughout the flight, Doc?

From this, it is obvious to any clear-thinking individual that there is AN OBSERVANT INTELLIGENCE governing the switching on and off of craving signals, which is also why they don’t pester you whilst you’re busy at work, playing sports or gardening.  That observant intelligence is called the Subconscious Mind, and it controls all habitual behaviour and the craving system, which is basically a reminder system.  It has nothing to do with tobacco or nicotine specifically: we get lots of cravings, they’re not all about tobacco.

Why Nicotine is Not a Drug 

So we can see that cravings are not related to falling nicotine levels, or else air travel would drive all smokers to distraction and none of them could sit through a movie.

Now, there are only two types of drug: medicinal drugs and recreational drugs.  Tobacco was supposed to be medicinal originally, but now we know it’s not, and so tobacco is not prescribed for any medical condition anywhere in the world, not ever.  Nor do tobacco companies claim that it has any beneficial or medicinal effects.  If it did, and that could be proven scientifically, you could bet your life they would use that in their marketing.  The fact that tobacco contains nicotine does not make it any more beneficial to health: tobacco is not a medicinal product, in fact the modern medical consensus is that tobacco is bad for you, and smokers are routinely advised by medical personnel to stop smoking it.

We all found out that tobacco has no recreational use the first time we ever tried it, and the fact that a smoker can lean on his car smoking tobacco, keys in hand, chatting to an officer of the law, then freely get in and drive away legally proves that no-one is suggesting that he or she is getting high on that.  In fact throughout the entire history of tobacco consumption in Europe over the last 400 years, no-one has ever suggested that it is a form of recreational drug use.  When you see office workers standing around outside the office building on a smoking break, they’re not “getting high”, are they?  Everybody knows that.  When they go back in, no-one says: “Forget asking George to do anything complicated for the next half hour, he’s just been smoking tobacco!”  Smokers would be unemployable if tobacco got you stoned or wired, and they certainly wouldn’t be entrusted with heavy goods vehicles, coaches or buses.

No medicinal use, no recreational use.

But what does nicotine actually DO?

First of all, nicotine is only one of thousands of chemicals in tobacco smoke.  When it was first isolated from the tobacco plant in 1828, it was regarded by the team that did that as a poison, not a drug.  This was perfectly reasonable because this alkaloid acts as a natural insecticide – it kills the bugs that try to eat tobacco leaves.  Once isolated it was widely used as an insecticide, and even now nicotine analogs such as imidacloprid continue to be widely used.  Why “nicotine” should have been named after the plant itself is unclear: no-one was suggesting at that point that this particular poison was the key to tobacco’s popularity or the thing that smokers were after.  And indeed it wasn’t, but about 115 years later, someone would start vehemently insisting that it was.  That someone was Doctor Lennox Johnston, and he was a real lone voice: his suggestion that tobacco smoking was actually a drug addiction was regarded as nonsense by medical authority and the wider profession alike.

Over the last twelve years, I have asked thousands of smokers: “What does nicotine do?  If it IS a drug, and you are smoking tobacco for the effects of this drug, what ARE those effects?”  Not one smoker has ever answered that question correctly.  “I think it relaxes me” is the most common guess.  In fact, nicotine makes the heart race, blood pressure rise, blood fat levels rise and there is an increased risk of thrombosis (blood clots). All those effects are toxic, hazardous and largely unnoticeable, but if the first two reached noticeable levels they would be uncomfortable.  If the last one reached a noticeable level, you would be dead or on your way to a hospital.  In short, no-one is smoking for the effects of nicotine, which is why smokers cannot tell me what the effects of nicotine are.

But then we never were smoking for the effects of nicotine right from the beginning.  In fact back then, the effects of nicotine knocked us sick, as did many other chemicals in the smoke.

Lennox Johnston was WRONG!

Smokers smoke because of cravings – that’s true – but cravings are nothing to do with nicotine, or anything else in the smoke.  Before Lennox Johnston came along, no-one ever thought they were.  I first realised that this was a fact when I started doing hypnotherapy and found that cravings can be shut down by the Subconscious mind upon request, provided the smoker is happy for that to be the outcome.  Then I wrote the book Nicotine: The Drug That Never Was in order to explain all the details and how we use hypnotherapy to eliminate the smoking habit, cravings and all.  Since then, a study from Tel Aviv University has confirmed what I stated about cravings being unrelated to nicotine levels and another from Harvard University has confirmed that Nicotine Replacement products don’t work at all, just as I have argued for years.

I wonder how long it will be before Science confirms my third and final point: that nicotine isn’t a drug at all.

Cue the links to exciting new studies suggesting that nicotine may help with…

Yeah, we know.  For years now, the drug giants that make nicotine replacement products have been desperately searching for some new application for the poison gum and the poison patches.  They know the game is almost up, and that soon everyone will realise that those products are based on a myth.  But the poison factory is already there, and it would seem a shame to lose all that revenue…

Spurious new ‘uses’ for nicotine!

A Song for Nicotine Manufacturers!

More about Lennox Johnston 

Central Hypnotherapy

 

Self-Administration Can Be Fun, Fun, Fun!

By Chris Holmes

The Non-Smoker Tries a Cigarette

Remember your first cigarette?  Or to be more precise, do you remember the first time you inhaled tobacco smoke properly and experienced the effect on the way you felt, physically and mentally?

If there was no alcohol in your system already at the time – or any other recreational drug like cocaine, amphetamine or cannabis – if you were – like myself – eight years old and hiding at the bottom of your friend Ian’s garden having helped him steal a (now rather crumpled) Embassy No.1 from his Mam’s packet, and a single match… after a few puffs on that, you may have felt like this:

Nauseous… head fuzzy… feel rather sick and faint… got that uncomfortable feeling like I don’t know where to put myself… feel really unwell… don’t feel safe… bowels churning… feel rotten, very definitely ill.  Poisoned.  Really want to feel normal again, regret trying this…

So I lay down on the grass and waited, feeling stunned and very sick.  It would be four whole years before I tried tobacco again.

Now of course, there are a lot of chemicals in tobacco smoke, not just nicotine.  But nicotine was certainly in there, and according to the British Medical Association’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary (Dorling Kindersley, 2002 – I have it open in front of me)… nicotine “stimulates the central nervous system, thereby reducing fatigue, increasing alertness, and improving concentration.”

Really?  Then how come I was lying there like a stuck pig watching the sky whirl round?  Also, why does the same medical dictionary include amongst the side effects of nicotine replacement therapy “nausea, headache, palpitations, cold or flu-like symptoms”?

After The Sly Smoke at School

As we headed back into the main building Stuart said, as he often did: “You know lads, I really feel ready for Double Physics now!  I feel energised, alert… the only problem is that my noticeably-increased powers of concentration might give me away this afternoon!  Better stash these cigs somewhere…”

It was a hazard of which we were all too keenly aware.  Anyone who works in a school will be able to spot the smokers – full of life, really alert, always concentratin’… come to think of it we had a bit of an unfair advantage, didn’t we?  No wonder we all did so well.

The Non-Smoker Tries A Nicotine Patch

Many years later, long after I had ditched tobacco I found myself putting the finishing touches to a book about nicotine and smoking (working title: Whose Stupid Idea Was All That Then?) when it suddenly occurred to me that although I had tried tobacco when I was a non-smoker and found it stunningly nauseating… experienced tobacco smoke as a regular smoker and grown accustomed to it but it never seemed beneficial… and also tried Nicotine Replacement Poisoning as a regular smoker and found it slightly weird and pointless, I had never tried nicotine alone as a non-smoker. What would it be like?  Perhaps, all those years ago in Ian’s garden I had been overwhelmed by all the other poisons in the smoke.  Maybe, if I just tried “therapeutic nicotine” all by itself, nicotine would indeed “stimulate the central nervous system, thereby reducing fatigue, increasing alertness, and improving concentration.” After all, that’s what the British Medical Association say it does.

The Experiment

So I obtained a single nicotine patch, a NiQuitin CQ 21mg 24-hour patch.  I also put by a pen and some paper upon which to make notes of the experience as I went along. I didn’t really intend to leave it on for the full 24 hours but I did aim to leave it on for most of the day, just to monitor the experience.  As it turned out, it didn’t quite happen that way.  What follows is directly quoted from Nicotine: The Drug That Never Was:

“This was at 10.15 on a Sunday morning, April 22nd 2007.  We were planning to take the kids to the park at about eleven, which I was looking forward to because it was a nice day.  This is an exact transcript of the notes I made at the time.

10.15 am.  Stuck patch on inside upper left arm.

10.20 am.  Tingling in both hands, mild tightening feeling in the throat.

10.25 am.  Feel nauseous, patch burning skin a bit.

10.30 am.  Feel like blood pressure is up, not a pleasant feeling.  Tense.  Uncomfortable, want to take it off actually.  More nauseous, feel a bit ill.  Patch really burning.  Bowels upset a bit.

10.35 am.  Head fuzzy.  Feel rather sick.  Got that feeling like I don’t know where to put myself.  Feel really uncomfortable and irritable now.

10.37 am.  Took patch off.  Don’t feel safe.  Big red mark on arm.  Hands/wrists aching.  Feel sick and faint, balance and even speech abnormal.  Wrists and hands quite red.  Bowels churning.  Feel rotten, very definitely ill.  Poisoned.  Really want to feel normal again, regret trying this.

10.50 am.  Still feel just as rotten, but feeling of real alarm that made me take it off now subsiding.  Just feel ill.

“The patch was only in contact with my skin for 22 minutes.  Before I began the experiment I felt fine – healthy and in good spirits.  Now I felt absolutely terrible, really unwell and although I don’t usually scare easy…” [as a former intravenous drug user over many years, I’ve done some pretty mad and dangerous things] “…actually afraid to leave the patch on any longer.  But here’s the thing – according to the B.M.A., nicotine:

“stimulates the central nervous system, thereby reducing fatigue, increasing alertness, and improving concentration.”

“So, did “therapeutic nicotine” make me feel more alert, able to concentrate better, as the B.M.A. described?  Well, by the time I took the patch off I was very nauseous, anxious, irritable and no longer able or willing to hold a normal conversation – so I would have to say no, it certainly did not.  Well, why not?  If that is what nicotine does, that is what it does.  I would have noticed.  It just made me feel poisoned, and actually it did remind me of the first cigarette I ever tried, when I was eight.  My pal Ian Coates stole a single Embassy No.1 from his mum, and we hid at the bottom of his garden and smoked it.  It left me feeling pretty much like the experience I described above, but with a foul taste in my mouth as well.  It was years before I tried one again, and even then it wasn’t because I liked it the first time.  It was just because I wasn’t allowed to, and because smoking makes you look grown-up and cool, despite being twelve and pimply with awful hair and silly clothes.  And feeling very queasy, if not actually vomiting.

“At eleven o’clock, we all left for the park.  Sure enough I felt very queasy, delicate and anxious that I might suddenly need the toilet – that IBS feeling.  I really didn’t want to go out at all now, I felt more like going for a lie down, which I hardly ever feel like doing even when I am ill.  Of course, some fool might suggest that the dose was too high for a non-smoker, or that I was irresponsible to try that without medical advice, as if that were the reason it made me ill.  But that’s ridiculous: none of us took medical advice before we tried our first cigarette, did we?  And very few kids start with a low-nicotine cigarette – certainly not my generation anyway, or the previous one.  So it was, in fact, an experiment that roughly replicated many initial, real smoking experiences but this time focussing entirely on nicotine itself – and guess what?  Nicotine just makes you feel ill, because it is nothing but a poison.  I’m not saying you can’t get used to it – professional boxers get used to being slammed in the face with a fist to the point where they hardly notice it, and I’m sure that stimulates the central nervous system too, but that don’t make it medicinal, baby.”

Talking of Crazy Experiments That Aren’t Exactly Scientific…

Who discovered penicillin?  That’s right, Fleming.  Who invented the hypodermic syringe?  Louis Pasteur, correct.  Both well known names in the history of medicine because the things they gave us are used by millions of people all over the world.  So: who invented nicotine replacement therapy?

You don’t know, do you?

Well, he was also the man who insisted that tobacco smoking was not just a filthy habit, as everyone had been quite happy to regard it for several centuries.  He insisted it was a drug addiction, and he claimed in a letter to The Lancet that he had ‘proven’ this by gathering together a group of 35 habitual smokers and – with their permission – injected them with 1mg of nicotine whenever they felt like they wanted a cigarette.  He insisted that because the impulse to reach for a cigarette then subsided, this proved that the reason they smoked was because they were addicted to nicotine.

The man was a Glaswegian GP called Dr. Lennox Johnston (1899-1986) and the main reason you have never heard of him is because everyone thought he was loopy.  He isn’t credited with inventing Nicotine Replacement Poisoning because he wasn’t suggesting using nicotine to get people OFF smoking.  In fact, that would be an insane suggestion from anyone who was insisting that the smoking problem was a result of addiction to that very poison.  No, he simply used that method to try to demonstrate his theory that smokers’ cravings are in fact a physical “need” for nicotine itself – but the experiment doesn’t even do that in reality.  If I had still been a smoker when I tried that patch experiment, I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to smoke for quite some time after that, just as I never wanted one when I had a hangover or felt under par for any other reason.  Lennox Johnston’s 35 volunteers were habitual smokers so they were more used to being poisoned than I was, but if they didn’t feel much inclined to smoke for a bit after an injection of a lethal insecticide (nicotine) then we shouldn’t be surprised.

Short-term reactions to interventions of that sort are no proof of anything.  This is why the Advertising Standards Agency recently blocked an advert by the NHS Stop Smoking Services which tried to use reported cessation rates at four weeks as if they were real success rates.  They said it was misleading, and I have already shown in the Evidence section of this site how the difference between those short-term results and the real outcomes at a one-year interval can be as great as 90% short-term, falling to 8% by the end of the year we have to conclude that the ASA are right to object.

Since I started this Campaign in March 2008, I have often heard it suggested that NRT products have been ‘properly’ tested in scientific trials, so I must be talking nonsense when I say they are utterly bogus and have no long-term effectiveness to speak of at all.  Did any of those people suggesting that know that in the original trials that got NRT passed as if it were a medication in the first place, it was passed on the basis of it’s performance at SIX WEEKS.  In smoking cessation that is NOT proof of efficacy and it should never have happened at all.

practice website


Remember When You First Started Smoking?

by hypnotherapist Chris Holmes

This month, the readership of this site has absolutely gone through the roof – and no, it doesn’t have anything to do with Edzard Ernst!  Or at least, not much to do with him.  “Inconsistencies in the Addiction Story” is the page everyone is reading, and despite recent fuss over other pages this remains the most viewed page on the site after the homepage.

Smokers, I hope, are reading this.  Ordinary smokers and particularly those who would really prefer to be non-smokers but they don’t seem to be getting anywhere with willpower (though some do!) or any of the pharmaceutical aids.

Readership of this site has been steadily climbing every month since it was launched in March 2008, but it has suddenly doubled during March 2010, and that’s the post that did it.  The fact is, smokers have been told a load of misleading rubbish about the tobacco habit and far too many of them end up suffering and dying as a result. So a very warm welcome to all the new readers around the globe – read on, you don’t have to buy anything.

Early Smoking Experiences

There is an interesting difference in the way some of the smokers who have no intention of quitting anytime soon describe their early smoking experiences and the way my clients nearly always descibe them.  This shouldn’t surprise us because very few people are thinking positively about tobacco by the time they reach the hypnotherapy stage.

“What made you think of using hypnotherapy to quit?” I ask each new client, which is a way of assessing how many are direct referrals from previous clients, which is most of them.  If not, the usual response is: “Because I’ve tried everything else!”

Naturally, the first time a smoker attempts to quit the habit they are likely to try to do it all by themselves using willpower.  If that doesn’t work they are probably going to have a go with the thing that is most extensively advertised, namely nicotine replacement poisoning (NRT).  If they knew that it had pretty much the same long-term outcome as willpower they probably wouldn’t bother – but most of them do not, because that is a fact the Department of Health were trying to keep to themselves.

Then – once it became obvious NRT had no lasting effect – the smoker might try some of the pills, willpower again, a self-help book with a CD, NRT again in a different form, then eventually find their way to hypnotherapy.  “You’re my last hope!” is an expression hypnotherapists hear every other day.

Sometimes these smokers are beating themselves up about having ‘failed’ so many times.  Not so: they have been given the wrong information, and with the best will in the world thay have been trying to use that information to quit smoking.  It is the method that has failed, not the smoker.  In explaining this point to them, I often compare it to trying to open a combination lock.  If you have been given the wrong information you are going to struggle, and no amount of willpower is going to change that.  If someone suggests that the problem is that you’re just not trying hard enough, or you don’t really want to open the lock, they would be quite wrong.  Equally it might appear to either party as if it were “really difficult” to open a combination lock.  Which it is, if you have the wrong information.

But if you have the right combination, it’s a snap.

Then I explain to these smokers that they are, in fact, typical of the kind of people who successfully quit smoking.  “The ones who do not succeed either keep putting off the attempt – which you never did – only try once or twice and don’t have the heart to go for it again – you evidently don’t lack that – or decide in advance that there’s “no point” trying other methods because the first method didn’t work.  The fact that you’re here proves that you are not that poorly motivated or unimaginative.  In fact,” I conclude, rather to their surprise because they hadn’t really thought of it that way lately, “you are EXACTLY the sort of person who is going to succeed because you clearly won’t settle for anything less!”

That usually perks them up a bit, because right up until that moment they’d been giving themselves a hard time over it.

At some point in the conversation I will ask them to cast their mind back to their earliest smoking experiences, and put the question: “Do you remember why you were doing that, at the time?”  Never once in the ten years I’ve been helping smokers ditch the habit – and we’re talking about thousands of individual smokers here – never once has anyone said: “For the effects of nicotine.”

Next question: “Do you remember how it made you feel when you first learned how to inhale the smoke?”

Now it is not that unusual, if in conversation with a person who isn’t aiming to quit anytime soon, or has an axe to grind about alternative therapy, or is just cheerfully pro-smoking, to hear them declare: “Actually, I really liked it!  Yes, I took to smoking like a duck to water and I didn’t even cough! In fact I love nicotine so much that even during the night I have a couple of patches stuck to my forehead so I can dream that I’m smoking all night long!”

I’m sure you’ve met someone like that, but it is almost unheard of for that person to book a hypnotherapy session.  Nor should they, they’re obviously quite happy the way they are, being all ‘nicotine friendly’. And why not.

No, I only work with people who have already decided that they want to get rid of the habit, and they only give one of two responses to the question: “I don’t remember” or “It made me feel dizzy and sick”.  There are hardly any exceptions to this apart from the relatively few smokers who first tried tobacco when they already had alcohol in their system.  Some of those people will have experienced the effects of inhaling tobacco smoke much more like a ‘high’ than the rest, who just found it a sickening experience they don’t particularly enjoy recalling, so of course some of them don’t recall it.  This is normal – many people who didn’t have a very nice childhood will report that they don’t remember much about their childhood at all.

The Actual Effects of Nicotine

I ask all smoking clients: “Do you know what nicotine actually does?”  I have yet to encounter a smoker who does know.  The most common guess is: “I think it relaxes me, or something…”  Can we find a parallel in real drug use? A heroin user who doesn’t know what heroin does?  A coke-head that doesn’t know what cocaine does?  No, of course not!

If any future client were to confidently announce: “Why, yes!  Nicotine makes my heart beat faster than it should, reduces blood flow to my extremities which causes the poor circulation that can eventually result in amputation, and the combination of these two changes causes a rise in blood pressure.  It also raises blood fats levels, which is useless and possibly a contributory factor in heart disease, and finally it raises the risk of thrombosis!”

…then I would immediately ask them if they imagined for one moment that they were truly smoking for the effects of nicotine.

Smokers smoke because of cravings, that is true.  But cravings are nothing to do with nicotine or anything else in the smoke.  And we get lots of cravings, they’re not all about tobacco.  They are impulses from the Subconscious mind which prompt you to do what you would usually do at that moment or in that situation, and the factor that has confused everybody about cravings is that they are transmitted via the body and they are real physical experiences that can be mild or very unpleasant indeed, and they will always be interpreted as a ‘need’ or a ‘desire’.

If you respond, the signal will cease which is why it has been misinterpreted as a ‘withdrawal symptom’.  If you don’t respond you get another signal and they will often become more frequent and progressively more uncomfortable and distracting because the purpose of the signal is to distract you from what you are thinking about just long enough to recognise what the circumstances suggest (to the subconscious) you should do, and also to ‘prompt’ you to do something other than what you were already doing.  If you don’t respond the subconscious assumes you didn’t notice that signal so it sends another, more insistent one.

If you have made a conscious decision to stop smoking, the Subconscious doesn’t know, so it (quite innocently) keeps sending the reminders which the poor old conscious mind is now trying to ignore using willpower (conscious effort).  The problem with that is that willpower is an extra effort we don’t normally make, so you can’t keep that up.  You can do it for a while, but it is an effort!  And an effort that you cannot sustain so as soon as you run out of steam – or get distracted by something else – the smoking habit is simply reasserted by the Subconscious mind because those conscious efforts didn’t change anything about it, they were simply a temporary conscious effort to repress the behaviour by force.

If I were wrong about all of this, and it were all about drug dependence, addiction and withdrawal then all of my smoking clients would walk out of my office the same way they walked in.  As would the drinkers, the gamblers, the cocaine-users and the chocoholics… but they don’t.  Cravings and habitual behaviours can be shut down in a hypnotherapy session provided the therapist is a successful specialist in those matters and the client is quite happy to be rid of the problem and has chosen the hypnotherapy route willingly.  True withdrawal symptoms can not be shut down in that way.

In Chapter Ten of Nicotine: The Drug That Never Was I define the Compulsive Habit as distinct from addiction which is the big gap in the medical understanding of these matters, which has got all messed up with theories about dopamine etc. because an understanding of the Subconscious mind is not a part of their training, not is it part of our general education but it should be.  We were all raised and educated in the first place with no mention of a subconscious mind, which leads to the current generalised notion that the conscious mind is the mind and it doesn’t really like the idea that there is another one!  Which is why I repeat the observation in the book a number of times that “the conscious mind doesn’t really believe in the Subconscious mind, except perhaps in theory”.

And by extension, doesn’t really believe in hypnotherapy until the results are encountered for real.  It is not a magic trick.  It is not a parlour game. It is not mysterious in any way, it can all be explained and accounted for. It is not remotely dangerous or risky, but stage hypnosis unfortunately makes it look as if it might be which is why that always needs explaining before we start doing any therapy!

Hypnotherapy is often regarded as alternative medicine, which is wrong on two counts. Firstly, it is not alternative because it was officially recognised as a valid therapeutic approach by the BMA and also their American counterparts in the mid-1950s, so it is orthodox and it has been, and is, used in both medicine and dentistry, though nowhere near as often as it would be if it were not for all the misinformation, prejudice, unnecessary fear and ignorant scoffing that we have had to contend with for the last couple of centuries.  Secondly, although it has medical applications hypnotherapy is not medicine, it is 100% communication so it has more in common with educational procedures than medical ones, and the current, almost universal lack of understanding of the Subconscious mind is entirely down to the Subconscious-shaped hole in our traditional models of education.

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