Acupuncture for Smoking

by Stacy Thomas | June 1, 2020

Quitting smoking is hard. You’ve tried will power. You’ve tried cutting down. You’ve tried eating instead of smoking, and instead of quitting smoking you gained a bunch of weight. So how do you quit for good? There are a myriad of options out there for quitting smoking, all with various dubious rates of success. If you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work, aural acupuncture could be the answer you’re looking for.

Aural acupuncture (acupuncture administered to the ears) is a centuries-old technique wherein needles are inserted into specific areas on a patient’s outer ear. It has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a way to treat everything from arthritis, to allergies, to infectious diseases. 

A Revolutionary Treatment for Addictions 

In 1985, Michael Smith, a doctor working at Lincoln Hospital in New York City, began advocating for the use of acupuncture for treating addictions. His hospital was located in the Bronx, which at the time was suffering from an out of control drug problem. His advocacy was controversial, but after its implementation, it was found that the techniques he employed were highly effective in treating people with drug addictions who were going through withdrawal. Combining his work with the thirty years of research conducted in France by Dr. Paul Nogier, Dr. Smith developed a specific new protocol for treatment—the NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) protocol

Whether the  addiction is food, street drugs, or alcohol many patients have found that aural acupuncture can help them achieve success where they’ve only experienced failure in the past. “The ear points seem to have a special affinity for brain regulation,” says Marianne Pedretti, an acupuncturist in Peterborough, Ont. “They’ve mapped out very specific pathways of the ear points activating different parts of the brain.”  Pedretti has experienced success with aural acupuncture for addiction on both sides of the needle, having kicked her own smoking habit using these techniques. “I found that immediately after getting ear acupuncture, not only did I not crave or have any withdrawal symptoms, but if I actually smelled smoke, it would give me a nauseous reaction, almost like how a non-smoker would react to smoke.

“It was quite amazing how effective it was. A lot of people think you have to believe in it in order for it to work. I always tell people that with acupuncture, you don’t have to believe it, you’ll feel it.”

Aural Acupuncture for Quitting Smoking — How it Works

Smokers often use cigarettes to cope with the stress and anxiety of their daily lives. In TCM, it is understood that stressful feelings are the result of stuck energy in the body. With aural acupuncture, flow and movement of the body’s vital energy is restored, alleviating the need to smoke. 

Acupuncture works on the theory that everything from diseases, to allergies, to depression, are the result of blockages of energy flow throughout the body. By inserting needles into certain “meridian” points, blockages can be removed. When the blockage is removed the body returns to a state of mental and physical wellness. There are points in the ear that correlate to all the other areas in the body, but Dr. Smith identified the five points that are the most beneficial for the treatment of addictions. The five points that Dr. Smith zeroed in on are the sympathetic point, the Shen Men (heart) point, the lung point, the liver point, and the kidney point.

The following are some of the positive effects that needling these specific points can have on someone who is quitting smoking or battling other addictions:

The five points of the NADA protocol

  • Shen Men. Shen Men translates as the “Heavenly Gate”. It is known for its overall positive effect on a person’s wellbeing and health. For centuries this point on the ear has been used to cure anxiety and depression, reduce inflammation, and ease the intensity of addiction and pain. 
  • Sympathetic. Balances the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, and improves blood circulation.
  • Lung. This point can help addicts let go of any grief or negativity they are holding on to. Negative emotions can cause blockages that prevent success. Stimulating this point also boosts immunity, and aids in detoxification by moving nicotine and tar out of the lungs.
  • Kidney. The kidney point boosts energy and willpower.
  • Liver. Stimulating the liver can aid in reducing anger and aggression. 

Quitting Together – NADA Approach for Community Support

Rather than lying on a table and treating one patient at a time, as is done in traditional acupuncture, aural acupuncture for smoking cessation is administered to many patients at a time. Patients are usually seated in comfortable chairs, and sit in a circle together. While it may not seem particularly appealing at first, this approach can create a sense of community and support.  Often the lights are dimmed, and patients are left to sit silently for up to forty minutes. There won’t be much, if any, talking during these sessions. A non-verbal approach can be better for people who struggle in talk-based-therapy. Part of the NADA protocol is the calm group environment where it is administered. Many patients find the treatment extremely calming.

What about people who can’t leave their homes? Aural acupuncture and the NADA protocol differ from traditional acupuncture in that it can be administered without a formal diagnosis from a Doctor or TCM professional. The fixed basis of the treatment means it is easily taught and can be administered by non-acupuncturists. If you can’t leave your home, or needles aren’t your thing, you can try acupuncture seeds or beads. Acupuncture seeds are morning glory seeds or high-grade metal beads. To use the seeds, patients place them in the appropriate position on the ear, and then gently tape them into place. 

The adaptiveness of this treatment makes it highly accessible to a wide variety of people. While a group environment and the presence of an experienced acupuncturist enhances the overall experience of aural therapy, people who do not have physical access to a practitioner, but who do have access to the internet, can be taught how to administer treatment to themselves.

To Conclude

The most important part of quitting anything we are addicted to, is the acceptance of our addiction, and the genuine desire to quit. With a committed attitude, a healthy lifestyle, and mental wellness support auricular acupuncture and the NADA protocol can be an essential part of your journey to finally be free from smoking. 

Stacy Thomas


Stacy Thomas was born and raised among the orchards of the Okanagan Valley. She studied journalism in Vancouver, B.C., and has worked as a reporter in places such as Germany, Ukraine, Northern B.C. and rural Alberta. Passionate about nature, she now lives in Squamish with her partner Nicki and her rescue dog Harley. She is currently a student of creative writing at the University of British Columbia, where she draws comics and writes poetry.