Why Smoke?

April 22nd, 2014

Why smoke?

Why do people smoke? And can hypnotherapy do more to stop them?

The good news is that smoking, especially cigarette smoking, is on the wane. According to figures compiled by the ASH organisation (Action on Smoking and Health), in 1974 about 51% of men and 41 % of women in Great Britain were cigarette smokers. Today, about 22 % of men and 19% of women in Britain smoke cigarettes. This is a considerable decline – from nearly half the adult population in 1974 to roughly one sixth of the adult population today. The bad news is that there are still 10,000,000 adult smokers in the UK, half of which will die as a direct result of their habit. And a recent estimate suggests that about 200,000 children between the ages of 11 – 15 take up the habit each year. Smoking has not gone away and will be with us for some time yet.

Today, most people accept that cigarette smoking incurs grave risks to health. Figures from Cancer Research UK suggest that around 86 % of lung cancer deaths in the UK are due to smoking and that smoking accounts for nearly a quarter of deaths from cancer in the UK.

In view of this, two questions arise. Firstly, why is it that people take up such a dangerous and expensive habit to begin with and, secondly, given that withdrawal symptoms are so mild, why do so many fail to quit the habit?

When discussing such a large percentage of the population it is tempting, if hazardous, to fall back upon generalizations. Nevertheless, as an ex-smoker I suspect that my own reasons for smoking are similar, at least in part, to others of my generation. I began smoking regularly in 1972, at the age of thirteen. Even at that age I was aware of the health implications of smoking. There used to be a tiny government health warning printed along the side of each cigarette packet. Peer pressure was certainly a factor. I would estimate that about one third of pupils at the all-boys secondary school I attended were regular smokers who would pursue their clandestine habit behind bike sheds and huts or in other places around the school grounds. To become part of this group was to identify with an attitude of defiance towards much-resented authority and of nonchalance towards the risks and perils of later life. It felt liberating.

As a hypnotherapist I find that many of my smoking cessation clients also recognize this behind-the-bike-shed aspect of the smoking habit. Today, smokers are banished from the workplace, the pub, the club and the restaurant and are forced to congregate outside in groups. This can create a feeling of camaraderie both among both friends and strangers and also a sense of standing up for individual preference against the wishes of society or the establishment.

There was also a rites-of-passage element to taking up smoking. Smoking is a “grown up” activity. To take up smoking is to turn one’s back on childhood – something we were very keen to do in 1972 – and to show oneself capable of making a choice or taking a stance. And although in 1972 cigarettes were relatively inexpensive and freely available, to be a regular smoker meant that you had some source of income, that you were employed. Again, this is further identification with adulthood. As said above, around half the adult population were smokers in the early 1970s.

For young smokers of my generation, then, smoking quickly became associated with some very strong and positive concepts, such as maturity, independence and autonomy. And although smoking is more widely disapproved of today I strongly suspect that many children today are drawn towards it as a means of demonstrating independence and autonomy if not outright defiance. Today, children have little chance of legitimately earning money, are kept within the school system for longer and longer, are feeling increasingly forced into tertiary education and are unlikely to start work until their mid-twenties. One can see why smoking might retain its attractiveness as a statement of maturity and a gesture of defiance.

The positive associations outlined above are further reinforced by the context in which smoking tends to occur. Especially for people of my generation, occasions such as parties, family gatherings, visits to the pub or club, holidays, Christmas, all of these activities tended to involve smoking. One can see, then, how the smoking habit could be bolstered by a very wide range of powerful positive associations.

But what of smoking itself? Is it really so inherently pleasurable that it is worth spending thousands upon thousands of pounds over the course of a lifetime and putting oneself at risk of death from highly unpleasant diseases?

Nicotine simulates the production of epinephrine, or adrenaline. This in turn produces an increased secretion of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and this substance is intimately associated with areas of the brain which generate a sense of pleasure and reward. More powerful and addictive drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine act in much the same way. Cigarettes may taste disgusting, they may generate a sense of nausea when inhaled and a feeling of wheeziness in the lungs, they force the heart to beat faster than it should do and it increases blood pressure. The “pleasure”, such as it is, comes from an almost indescribable sense of “reward” caused by the increase of dopamine levels.

As far as hypnotherapy is concerned, smoking cessation techniques are often among the first things taught by hypnotherapy training establishments and, on the basis of this training, hypnotherapists will often formulate a treatment process often consisting of only one session of hypnotherapy in which the therapeutic suggestions revolve around two basic themes – it is good and liberating to give up smoking; it is bad and dangerous to continue. Suggestions may be direct or indirect but will usually not stray far from those two basic themes. And in many cases, where a client has simply outgrown all or most of the positive associations of smoking and is left with an increasingly annoying habit, such treatments may well be successful.

But some clients are more resistant to such an approach. However, that doesn’t mean that hypnotherapy may not be used to help them. In such cases, hypnotherapy may be used to explore the deeper roots of the smoking habit, taking particular heed of the positive associations mentioned above. In probing these roots it is highly likely that other issues will rise to the surface, issues involving self-esteem, confidence and overall feelings of security which can also be treated using hypnotherapy. Or maybe hypnotherapy may be used to encourage behaviours which tend to increase dopamine production, such as regular exercise.

I believe that any smoker, for whom hypnosis is not contra-indicated, can be weaned off the smoking habit by the use of hypnotherapy. But for the more stubborn, ingrained, died-in-the-wool smoker more time is needed to explore the attachment to a habit which almost certainly goes beyond physical addiction. And, as Shakespeare said, there’s the rub. Customers or clients of hypnotherapy tend to see the process as some sort of magic wand which can be waved over the course of just one or two session. Failure to produce near-instantaneous results leads to a perception of failure on the clients’ part. This is partly due to the elusive and ill-defined nature of hypnosis itself and partly due to the “magical” perception of hypnosis encouraged by performers such as Paul McKenna and Derren Brown and films such as The Manchurian Candidate. But in real life there are no magic wands.

Of all the many and various forms of psychotherapy which exist at the moment, I believe that hypnotherapy has by far the greatest potential for further development. But for this to happen we need to nurture the perception of hypnotherapy as a therapy, not a wonder cure. Clients expect treatments such as counselling, CBT or psychodynamic psychotherapy to produce therapeutic movement over time, not instantaneously. Why should expectations of hypnotherapy be any different?

Horsham Hypnotherapy: serving clients from Horsham, Crawley, Burgess Hill, Haywards Heath, Guildford, Redhill and all parts of West Sussex, East Sussex and Surrey. Contact us today.

There is always something very satisfying in helping another person to stop smoking. As an ex-smoker myself I know that stopping smoking is not the easiest thing in the world. As a hypnotherapist, to help someone quit is to rid them of a deadly and unsociable habit and also to save them money. Money spent on fags soon adds up.

Mike Till – a client from several years ago – contacted me recently for information about a matter unrelated to smoking. My smoking cessation treatment had successfully broken his smoking habit and he is, to this day, still smoke-free! Of his own volition, quite unprompted by me, he offered this testimonial to my treatment:

”With a baby on the way in my second marriage I was getting really fed up of being a slave to cigarettes and felt I really HAD to do something more definite than the usual game of ‘cutting down’ or giving up for a week- just to prove I could quit any time I wanted…………. which clearly I couldn’t. I would be up early in the morning to fill up on the cigarettes I’d missed while I was asleep and, at 40 a day, too much of my day was being spent smoking. I needed to give up before the baby arrived in March 2006, otherwise I knew I would really struggle afterwards.

I had read the Allen Carr book and, although it all made sense, it didn’t really ‘do it’ for me. In January 2006 I was recommended to Neil by someone who had given up smoking with his help. Although he wasn’t local to us it was a sensible suggestion so I made contact.

I made one visit at which Neil explained that he would be able to tell me by the end of the session if he could help- which he said he could. He then told me to come back in two weeks time and he would be able to send me away as a non-smoker as long as I really wanted to stop.

On visit two, having travelled the hour journey and arrived in Horsham very,very early, I parked the car in a country park a couple of miles from town and then chain-smoked the last few cigarettes from my pack. In the meantime I managed to flatten the car battery by running the radio and aircon without the engine running. When it was time for the appointment the car wouldn’t start and I had to ring Neil, whose wife came out to collect me.

At the end of session two I felt no different but at least I didn’t have any cigarettes left so that was a good start. I won’t pretend that the next couple of weeks were fun but the knowledge that I was a non-smoker was a great help and stopped me in my tracks.

Seven years on I know I am a life-long non-smoker. I have never faultered or been tempted. Why would I? I’m a non-smoker!

Thanks Neil. There is no point in pretending I could have done it without you. Actually I could have given up lots of times over the last seven years instead of just once and finally.”

Mike Till- Liphook
May 2013

Many thanks Mike. Best wishes to you and your family


Horsham Hypnotherapy: serving clients from Horsham,
Crawley, Burgess Hill, Haywards Heath, Guildford, Redhill and all parts of West
Sussex, East Sussex and Surrey. Contact us today.


How Hard Is It to Quit Smoking?

February 28th, 2012

As a hypnotherapist, smoking cessation is an important part of my professional life. Over the past ten years I have had more clients for smoking than for any other issue. But unlike many of my colleagues, I have been a smoker myself. I know what it’s like. I know that giving up isn’t easy. But I also know that it can be done, that you can break the habit, consign it to the past and simply get on with the rest of your life without even thinking about the habit.

But I also think that it is useful to reflect upon my own experience as a smoker because, in doing so, I can empathize more deeply with those many thousands of people who feel trapped and rendered helpless by this dangerous habit. And I can give them hope. I am living proof that a one-time heavy smoker can quit smoking forever.

Why did I ever start smoking? Like most smokers I vividly remember my first cigarette. It was given to me by my grandmother. I was aged around nine or ten. Yes – this was a few decades ago, but just think how times have changed! When Nan gave me my first fag, no one thought it was a big deal. I didn’t know how to smoke it properly, I didn’t like the taste, and at the time I simply thought that having tried it and not enjoyed it I would never be a smoker.

But I became a smoker. Why?

I think that there were two reasons. Peer pressure was certainly one of them. I wanted to do what some, if not all, of my mates were doing. I wanted to take the lead over those who weren’t doing it yet because they were nervous at taking the plunge. But I think that there was another, deeper reason why I took it up.

Neither of my parents were smokers. But many relatives and family friends were. Dad used to smoke a cigar or two at Christmas or after a special meal out. Family gatherings, parties, weddings and other such special events were wreathed in cigarette smoke. So many of the good things in life became associated with cigarette smoke.

On Saturday afternoons we used to get a cleaner in to help Mum out. There were three of us kids. Dad was a coalman. There was endless amounts of washing to do and Mum needed a helping hand on a Saturday afternoon. The lady who came to clean for us was a smoker. So, even today, the combined smell of wood polish and fag smoke evokes happy memories of long summer Saturdays, when school felt like it was a million miles away and there was still Dr Who and Sunday to look forward to…

These positive associations intensified as I got older. Cigarette smoke came to represent rebellion against an impossibly dull and restrictive school regime. It became associated with booze-ups and crazy nights out. And as an undergraduate, smoking was simply a natural part of our louche student lifestyle.

So – in one way or another – smoking was associated with all the good things in life. Holidays, Christmases, family gatherings, meals out, pub visits, parties – all of these things were associated in my mind with smoking. Added to which was the attraction of the habit itself. I got to like smoking. I used to like a fag and a pint with friends. I used to like a fag with a strong pot of tea when I was studying as an undergraduate. (My tutor, and later thesis supervisor, the eminent Descartes scholar Prof. John Cottingham, was also a smoker and was often ready to share a Silk Cut during tutorials). I used to like smoking.

So the question now arises – how and why did I quit?

I remember my first attempt at quitting. It came as quite a shock. I first tried to quit at the ripe old age of seventeen. I had been smoking for four years. I decided to stop one Sunday morning. I lasted the whole of Sunday – but it was hard. I spent the whole day feeling irritated and thinking about smoking. I was at work the next day. At that time I was an apprentice plumber. The day did not go well – I caused two leaks and broke my boss’s best drill. That was it – back to the fags for me!

The next time was more successful. My schooling had been an unmitigated disaster and I had ended up in the wrong job. I had to do something. And, as I always say, one change often leads to another. I signed up for some correspondence courses but found that I couldn’t study because I couldn’t concentrate. I started to explore yoga and meditation – and I came to appreciate what a dangerous and harmful habit smoking really is. I learned some meditation techniques and did some concentration exercises. I began to change. And I gave up smoking.

At university I made the usual fatal mistake. I started to have the “occasional” cigarette in the evenings. It soon became every evening. Then every afternoon and evening. Then I was back to square one. But only for a couple of years. I knew that I could do again what I had done before, and there was never any doubt that I would, at some time, stop smoking for good. After January 1990, that was it. No more cigarettes. Do I miss it? I don’t even think about it. I can honestly say that no matter what I’m doing – walking with the kids, or having a beer, or after a meal – I don’t even think about smoking. I know – with 100% certainty – that I will never be a habit smoker again.

All this happened before I trained in hypnotherapy. But I was using mediation and concentration exercises which, I think, are pretty much the same thing in a different guise. But what also helped was that at no point in my life did I ever say that I couldn’t quit or that I would remain a smoker forever. I always knew I would stop. I never once said “I can’t quit” or “I haven’t got the willpower”. I believe that people who say those things are using a kind of hypnosis against themselves. If you tell yourself something often enough you will end up believing it.

So – as a hypnotherapist, I know that it is not an easy thing to quit smoking. I also know that if you want to quit you can. Sometimes people come to me who don’t want to give up smoking but who nevertheless want to be non-smokers. They want me to wave hypnosis as a kind of magic wand and make the habit magically disappear. Well, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work like that. People are people, not puppets or machines. The human brain is not a passive computer program. You need to want to quit. And if you want to, then – sooner or later – you will.

How do you maximize your chances of success? First of all, you need to choose your moment. If you’re going through a period of change and transition, if your relationship is going through a rocky patch or is breaking down, if things are particularly stressful at work, or if a load of celebrations, parties or other such events are on the near horizon then it is probably best to wait until things settle down. But it is also vitally important to “psyche-up” to it. Tell people that you’re giving up. That will do two things – it will give you an added incentive to stick to your word, and the words you say to others will have an effect upon you. When you say something, you give your words a certain reality. And you must make a promise to yourself, whatever happens, never to tell either yourself or anyone else that you cannot quit, or that you do not have the willpower.

If you want to stop, you can. Hypnotherapy is not a magic wand – it is a helping hand which can make the difference between success and failure.

The struggle against the smoking habit is a conflict which you must win. And even if you lose a battle, you can always win the war.

You have to. Your life depends upon it.

Horsham Hypnotherapy: serving clients from Horsham, Crawley, Burgess Hill, Haywards Heath, Guildford, Redhill and all parts of West Sussex, East Sussex and Surrey. Contact us today.


A cigarette is an elegant fashion accessory which makes you look both cool
and mature…


A cigarette is a paper tube of shredded tobacco, usually with a filter at one end.
You light the tube and inhale the smoke. Cigarette smoke contains some 4700
chemical ingredients, about 60 of which cause cancer – such as: Read the rest of this entry »

Happy No Smoking Day everyone. If there are any smokers out there in the Horsham, Crawley, Guildford, West Sussex or Surrey area, you know what to do…

On ITV’s Daybreak program this morning, Dr. Hilary Jones was busy promoting No Smoking Day for all it was worth. He mentioned some of the usual quitting aids – patches, inhalators, gum etc. He mentioned CBT (CBT for smoking? That would be a bit expensive, wouldn’t it?). He mentioned hypnotherapy – as well he might, for hypnotherapy’s track record in this area is pretty impressive.

But as soon as he mentioned the word “hypnotherapy” – well, he just had to say it didn’t he: “Look into my eyes, look into my eyes, not round the eyes but in the eyes…” Thank you Little Britain! Thanks a lot Matt Lucas! What have I ever done to you? When those sketches were first broadcast I, like most other hypnotherapists, had to go through a couple of months of purgatory. “Look into my eyes” etc. Yes, very funny. But after a couple of weeks the humour does wear off a bit…

But afterwards I couldn’t help wondering how many prospective clients make the same association – hypnotherapy and “look into my eyes”. And I wondered how many were put off by it. Surely some are. Many years ago I was arranging a small loan in a bank. The person dealing with me had done all the usual training in how to handle customers and the General Public. Lots of straight eye contact. Until I told her what I did for a living. No more eye contact after that!

So – lets lay a few myths to rest.

A hypnotherapist does not look people in the eye and by some magic power take over their minds. I don’t know of any hypnotherapist who uses induction methods involving eye contact.

Induction by eye contact works by holding a person’s gaze. If the eyes are kept still they start to tire. If the hypnotist is reeling off suggestions about the eyes getting tired and heavy then the subject will accept the suggestions as true and may even think that the hypnotist is causing the heaviness of the eyes. Eye closure may be achieved in that way. Or with more suggestible people eye closure is not even necessary. If the gaze is held, the attention can be controlled.

All very powerful and impressive. But here in the real world things aren’t quite so simple. I have experimented with eye contact techniques – but only with willing colleagues, never with clients. I found that two things would typically happen – either one or both of us would get the giggles, thus making further serious work impossible, or I would start going into hypnosis myself.

Eye contact is incredibly powerful – but, in my opinion, almost impossible to employ usefully in a therapeutic context. Eye contact can be threatening or intrusive. Karate is my sport. You are supposed to look your opponent straight in the eye. Unless I know the person quite well I find that very hard to do. I look at their nose or their mouth, rarely straight in the eye. And it is not because I feel that they are threatening me or I them. It just somehow seems intrusive – almost rude.

So – let’s forget all about eye contact and send Mr. Lucas on his merry way! And never let it get in the way of giving up smoking!

Give up smoking now. Contact me today.

Horsham Hypnotherapy: serving clients from Horsham, Crawley, Burgess Hill, Haywards Heath, Guildford, Redhill and all parts of West Sussex, East Sussex  and Surrey. Contact us today.

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