By Janie Southard
The week before my acupuncture session to quit smoking almost four months ago, I probably smoked 20 packs of cigar-ettes. I stayed up late and got up early to get my smoking time in.
Oh yes, I know it's insane that any intelligent adult would be so devoted to such a bad habit. That's what society calls an addiction.
I spent most of my 35 years of cigarette smoking (Can you just imagine the money that literally went up in smoke! I should be writing this from my condo in Bermuda) believing I could quit at any time if I wanted to. The thing was, of course, I didn't want to.
Almost all smokers, especially long-time smokers, know it isn't a healthy thing to do, but they also realize it's instant gratification and it's a constant in your life as long as you want it to be. Good times or bad, cigarettes are your reward and your consolation.
I began smoking at Ohio University when I was 18 years old. It wasn't a whim or peer pressure, I planned from the time I was 9 or 10 years old to smoke when I was 18 and not a moment before. Any age before that was definitely not a cool thing. Young teens with cigarettes looked silly, and still do. Almost everyone I knew smoked. Cigarettes were widely advertised in print, on television and celebrities smoked a lot in the movies. (As a matter of fact, you could actually smoke in theaters at that time and for several years beyond.)
Tobacco company representatives came to your work and various public places and gave away little sample packs of five cigarettes trying to get you to switch brands or start smoking.
They also came to college campuses in the 1960s and if you hung around and chatted with them, they'd give you as many as 20 little packs. I know this for a fact.
When I started smoking, a pack of Winstons was 25 cents -- the same as a gallon of gasoline, by the way. For less than $5 you could smoke and drive all week. Now, I note cigs are $3 a pack and gasoline isn't far behind.
Sin tax, they call it. But for the first 25 or so years of my habit, smoking wasn't viewed as a bad thing. Oh, there were early non-smoking activists around but they didn't have a strong voice because the majority of adults smoked, or so it seemed.
In those days it was the non-smokers who were seated at the no-view tables in restaurants while the smokers puffed happily in the choice seats overlooking the ocean, mountains, parades, clowns, whatever.
If someone had said 35 years ago that by the 21st century you would not be permitted to smoke at work or that entire cities would be declared smoke-free, it would have been akin to predicting penguins would stage a government coup.
In the mid-1990s I quit smoking for seven years with the help of a professional hypnotist. During that time I gained about 50 pounds. Not only did I resemble a small moon with legs I was diagnosed with type II diabetes within the first six months of quitting.
After years of fighting weight problems I started smoking again in 1998 and within six months had lost 40 pounds.
Last year I was not successful in the American Cancer Society's quit smoking program. I think it just wasn't the right time for me to quit again. I must confess I slowed down for only a couple days of the eight-week program.
At this point I'm tempted to tell you the first step to stop smoking is to really, really want to quit, but acupuncture is proving that statement wrong.
Although I had been thinking seriously about quitting for several months prior to the acupuncture session, I can't actually say I was wild about the idea. I liked to smoke. I would still like to smoke, but, for some reason, I don't smoke. It's an odd thing.
Word of a successful, but less traditional, way to break the smoking habit came from a colleague of my husband's who quit after an acupuncture treatment last summer with Dr. Dorrin M. Birch.
I signed up for acupuncture treatment with Birch, in Perrysburg in mid-February. Cost: $145 for the session, which included five other smokers, one of whom was my husband. (Yes, we were team smokers and are now team quitters.)
Birch is a small, trim woman, an English professor type. She's articulate, witty and very focused. She's been in general medical practice for probably the better part of three decades and vividly described for us how she quit smoking and drinking using acupuncture in 1981.
She said she got started in general practice with Dr. James Olms who was already interested in the 3,000-year-old Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM) procedure called acupuncture. He told Birch acupuncture was the very thing to help her quit smoking and stay away from alcohol.
"Oh, yeah, yeah, whatever," she said she recalled thinking. "After all I was a doctor. I knew about medical treatment, and I knew about addiction," she said. Acupuncture wasn't part of her medical training. But finally she agreed to try the treatment, and it worked.
"I couldn't believe it. I began training with him and it is his method that I use today," Birch said.
Okay, so exactly what is acupuncture and how does it work?
The information sheets Birch provides to her patients claim the "easiest explanation is that it works with and affects a refined, micro-environmental level of electrical energy in the body." (Say what?)
Think of a thin line of energy (a meridian) beginning in one hand, running up the arm into the shoulder, across the chest, into the opposite shoulder, down that arm and into the hand. That complete meridian is the one in which elements collect that impede efforts to break the nicotine addition, according to Birch.
Six hair-thin needles inserted at specific points along this energy line serves to "turn off the circuit that controls the activity associated with smoking," the doctor told us.
Smokers physically accomplish the act of smoking by using their hands, arms, elbows, chest, etc. -- the very path of the energy meridian involved in smoking cessation acupuncture.
Although there are as many as 100 points along that meridian where needles could be inserted, Birch uses six sites: two in each wrist, two below each earlobe and two at the side of each nostril.
Let's talk about those needles. We're not talking about giant daggers here or needles for shots; these needles are hair-thin, have an elongated grasping area and are about four inches long.
I felt no pain. In fact, I kept checking my wrists to make sure the needles hadn't fallen out. I did feel a warm tingle in both arms and across my shoulders.
Each person was taken to one of several small private rooms. The lights were dimmed and soft music played. Birch inserted the needles, and 15 minutes of relaxation followed. At the end of the relaxing, the needles were removed and the whole thing was over.
Back out in the parking lot, my husband said he didn't even feel like smoking. I certainly felt like smoking but, for some reason I didn't smoke and haven't smoked since.
Oh, yes, I've thought of smoking and have had moments when I've really wanted a cigarette, but those moments are fleeting. Most of the time I just forget about it.