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Is acupuncture effective in helping smokers quit smoking?

The short answer to the above question is "probably not." It is the intent of this page to collect and provide links to "independent" online resources that have taken the time to review the efficacy or effectiveness of acupuncture in helping smokers quit smoking. If you locate any "independent" resource that you'd like to see added to this page, please send a quick e-mail.

Please keep in mind that your favorite acupuncturist telling you that he or she cures 90% of all smokers is not independent proof. In fact, if the below evidence is accurate, then it's probably consumer fraud. The average smoker only musters the courage for one serious cessation attempt about every three years. If the Cochrane Review's findings are accurate, with tobacco killing half of all long-term adult smokers and crippling most lucky enough to survive, those using extremes in false advertising to steal and squander the smoker's priceless periods of cessation confidence should find themselves behind bars.

U.S. Guideline - In June 2000 the U.S. government published the "Clinical Practice Guideline [for] Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence (USDHHS). Page 67 of the U.S. Guideline states:

Acupuncture. "A separate meta-analysis was conducted for acupuncture. This analysis was conducted to achieve a sensitive test on the small body of studies that use this technique. Evidence, as shown in Table 24, did not support the efficacy of acupuncture as a smoking cessation treatment. The acupuncture meta-analysis comparing "active" acupuncture with "control" acupuncture revealed no difference in efficacy between the two types of procedures. These results suggest that any effect of acupuncture might be produced by factors such as positive expectations about the procedure."

Cochrane Review - "Acupuncture and related interventions for smoking cessation," authored by White AR, Rampes H, Campbell JL and updated October 24, 2005, reviewed existing acupuncture studies. Its primary conclusion is that, "Acupuncture and related therapies do not appear to help smokers who are trying to quit."

"We identified 24 reports of studies. The only comparison for which there were sufficient studies to combine meaningfully was acupuncture compared with sham acupuncture. The fixed-effect odds ratio (OR) for the short-term effect was 1.36 (95% confidence interval 1.07 to 1.72), but the studies are heterogeneous and the result is strongly influenced by one individual positive study. The significant short-term effect was lost with the random-effects model for pooling, or by removing the outlying study that led to heterogeneity. The long-term result shows no effect of acupuncture compared with sham acupuncture. There was no consistent evidence that acupuncture is superior to no treatment, and no evidence that the effect of acupuncture was different from that of other anti-smoking interventions, or that any particular acupuncture technique is superior to other techniques."

"There is no consistent evidence that acupuncture, acupressure, laser therapy or electrostimulation are effective for smoking cessation, but methodological problems mean that no firm conclusions can be drawn."

Bandolier Library - "Acupuncture to stop smoking" Examines the Cochrane review studies and a meta-analysis of acupuncture techniques and draws the following conclusion:

People entering trials of smoking cessation want to stop smoking. Some of them succeed. With acupuncture, no more succeed.

Acupuncture for Smoking High School Students - a February 2006 study examined "The effects of the acupuncture treatment for smoking cessation in high school student smokers."

"This study was conducted for four weeks using 238 smoking students at 2 high schools. The subjects were separated into two groups: 159 students were treated with acupuncture on the anti-smoking acupoints of the ear, which is known to be effective for cessation of smoking (case group), and 79 students were treated at other sites of the ear (control group). The acupuncture treatment was alternately administered at each side of the ears on a weekly basis for 4 weeks."

"The smoking cessation success was only 1 case (0.6%) in the case group and none in the control group after 4 weeks. The change in the taste of tobacco and the intensity of the desire to smoke were not significantly different between the case and control groups, but the case group showed a tendency of reduction in the taste of tobacco and the intensity of the desire to smoke. In addition, the reduction in cigarette consumption was not significant, but the tendency of reduction in the study group was significant. It is believed that the site of auricular acupuncture for smoking cessation is not important. However, there was a significant tendency in terms of the reduction in cigarette consumption, the taste of tobacco and the intensity of the desire to smoke in the case group, indicating that auricular acupuncture in smoking cessation has some effect."

Offer to Acupuncturists - All acupuncturists keep participant contact records (name, address and telephone numbers) of all smokers who attend their programs. They know the six month and one year effectiveness of their treatment, if they care to review it.

But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In fairness to acupuncturists, I invite any acupuncturist who desires to have their program and smoking cessation attendance information reviewed and analyzed by an independent study source to send an email to the address provided below. Please describe your program in detail and state its six month (or 24 week) and one year continuous smoking cessation rates for the past 24 months, including the method used to verify results. In fairness to you and your program, I will gladly work to help you have your records and program reviewed by those actively engaged in conducting cessation studies. The only thing I ask in return is the right to publish your claimed effectiveness rates, and any future specific findings regarding your program, here on this page.

It's a common practice on the Internet for acupuncturists to offer "testimonials" from a few satisfied customers. Please keep in mind that those quitting on their own, without any assistance from any source whatsoever, have a 10 to 11% chance of quitting for 6 months and about a 5% chance of quitting for one year. If true, at least 10% of all quitters who undergo acupuncture should still be free at five months. In fact, 10% of those who quit while standing on their head, while taking 1,000 different types of herbs, after undergoing hypnosis, or even after using the nicotine patch, should still be quit at 6 months.

A problem develops when the acupuncturist adds in additional proven techniques other than acupuncture (such as one-on-one or group counseling, cessation education, skills development exercises, other behavioral training, group support, or additional sessions or repeated telephone contact that encourages a smoker to continue on) and thereafter attempts to market their program by awarding 100% of their program's success to acupuncture. Yes, even having your own pep-rally or cheerleader has proven to increase cessation rates above the standard 10%. Care must be taken not to give acupuncture credit for conscious cheerleading that pumps up the team before the big crave.

Additional Online Links

1.  Full Text Versions of U.S. Guideline, June 2000

2.  "A meta-analysis of acupuncture techniques for smoking cessation", Tobacco Control 1999;8: Pages 393-397 (Winter)

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Written April 11, 2002 and page format updated June 15, 2015 by John R. Polito