A Renewed Campaign Against Smoking

by Siegfried Othmer | July 31st, 2008

Two powerful individuals are combining their efforts and resources in a renewed campaign against the scourge of tobacco: Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City. Despite best efforts to date to change behavior, about one billion people still smoke; half die prematurely from smoking-related causes; and the typical loss of life expectancy ranges from ten to fifteen years (The Economist, July 26th issue, p. 70). Ironically, Philip Morris had it right when they made the case in the Czech Republic years ago that smoking actually reduced the costs of providing social security because it conveniently caused people to die sooner.

What may make the difference this time, suggests the Economist newspaper, is that Gates and Bloomberg come with money, methods, and motivation. When it comes to methods, however, the plan is to be receptive to a wide variety of initiatives that have promise rather than funneling efforts into a pre-ordained program. That offers an opening for neurofeedback.

Neurofeedback has something unique to offer when it comes to smoking. As we have said for some years now, it is a mistake to campaign against smoking merely because of the long-term impacts when there are so many obvious near-term benefits. The human operating system responds much more effectively to short-term rewards than to vague long-term disincentives. Willpower is enormously over-rated when it comes to fighting a reward system that is largely mechanized subconsciously.

The missing piece is training the brain to the point at which smoking tobacco no longer boosts brain function in the moment. Nicotine is used by many simply to manage arousal level. Some brains are calmed with cigarettes; others are activated. Neurofeedback can displace the need for nicotine, and only then should we be talking about giving up smokes. Beyond that point, we are dealing with acquired habits of mind, and acquired habits of brain.

The habits of mind can be helped with Alpha-Theta training. This also helps with histories of emotional trauma that may underlie the nicotine addiction. As pointed out by Gabor Mate (“When the Body Says No”), lung cancer death rate is predicted not so much by smoking as by history of emotional trauma. Remediating the trauma may pave the way to resolving the nicotine addiction as well.

As to the acquired habits of brain, we have the history of neurofeedback / eeg biofeedback for addictions to fall back upon. In the case of drug dependencies that have been researched, the elimination of craving is often observed with the training. The achievement of sobriety and abstinence is not contingent on the elimination of craving, so we’re dealing with a subset here of the people who are successful in shedding their addiction with neurofeedback. These findings imply a fundamental renormalization of the reward circuitry in the formerly addicted brain through neurofeedback.

In addition, we have anecdotal case histories from our own clinical work in which the same shedding of physiological dependency (as indexed by craving) is observed with nicotine as with alcohol and the illicit drugs that have been previously researched. The implication of all the research to date is that we are largely dealing with “common pathways” of addiction, and these are now directly accessible to alteration through neurofeedback.

One Response to “A Renewed Campaign Against Smoking”

  1. Mel Gibson took a deep breath, shook his head and stared down at his palms. “I just can’t do this. You’ve got me at a disadvantage.” The movie star…was a mere 19 minutes into an interview, but it was clear that there was no way he was going to make it to 20.
    “I’m coming rapidly to the conclusion that right now, today, my brain cannot function. Honestly? I am six days off the cigarette. You’re looking at someone who’s having a pretty bad withdrawal from a 45-year habit.”
    —The above is by Geoff Boucher, in the Los Angeles Times of January 24, 2010.

    This is a perfect example of our message: Sudden withdrawal may cause loss of brain function, and that makes withdrawal all the more difficult to sustain. It is best to put neurofeedback up front, and to train the brain to the point at can handle the challenge of withdrawal without loss of function.

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