Kick the Smoking Habit with Mindfulness

Kick the Smoking Habit with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“There’s lots of self-judgment that goes on when you’re trying to do something difficult, like trying to quit smoking. Also if we judge others, that can get us riled up, which can lead to smoking. We teach it as a way to learn to concentrate more but also to let go of judgment. When people have a craving, they can notice if they’re resisting or beating themselves up.” – Judson Brewer


“Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. Cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year, with more than 41,000 of these deaths from exposure to secondhand smoke. In addition, smoking-related illness in the United States costs more than $300 billion a year. In 2013, an estimated 17.8% (42.1 million) U.S. adults were current cigarette smokers.”  (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).


Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known. But, its addictiveness is not just due to its pharmacological properties. Addiction to smoking also involves learned or conditioned factors, genetics, and social and environmental factors. This makes it easy to become addicted and very difficult to stop. To some extent this is why there still are high rates of smoking even though mostly everyone understands that it has very negative effects on health and longevity.


There are a wide variety of methods and strategies to quit smoking which are to some extent effective. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 40% of smokers who want to quit make a serious attempt to do so each year, but fewer than 5% actually succeed. Most people require three or four failed attempts before being successful. One problem is that after quitting if a single cigarette is smoked, going back to regular smoking is almost assured. As John Polito wrote “nicotine dependency recovery is one of the few challenges in life where being 99% successful all but assures 100% defeat.”


So, better methods to quit which can not only promote quitting but also prevent relapse are badly needed. Mindfulness training has been shown to be helpful in treatment for addiction and prevention of relapse after recovery. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness training for smoking cessation: A meta-analysis of randomized-controlled trials.” See:

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Oikonomou and colleagues review the published randomized controlled trials on the use of mindfulness training as a treatment for quitting cigarette smoking. They found, not surprising, that the training was successful in increasing mindfulness. More importantly, they found that although mindfulness training did not produce significantly different cigarette abstinence rates at 4 to 6 weeks following training, it did at 17 to 24 weeks, where 25.2% of mindfulness trained participants were abstinent while only 13.6% of usual treatment participants were.


These results are encouraging as the reviewed studies were high quality, well controlled, and designed trials. They suggest that mindfulness training is effective in promoting the long-term cessation of cigarette smoking. It is not known exactly what it is about mindfulness training that assists with cessation of smoking. But, it can be speculated that since quitting smoking is very stressful, mindfulness training might help because it reduces the psychological and physical responses to stress, thus making it easier for the individual to withstand the stress of nicotine withdrawal. The fact, however, that mindfulness training did not improve cessation rates at 4 weeks after treatment and it is during this time that nicotine withdrawal effects are present, that it is unlikely that this is the mechanism of action.


Staying abstinent from smoking over the long-term requires that the individual be able to refrain from responding to the myriad of social, environmental, and physical triggers that signal cigarette smoking. By increasing mindfulness, the training may make it easier for the individual to be aware of these triggers and thus be better able to prevent responding to them. Regardless of the mechanism, it is clear that mindfulness training is effective in promoting abstinence from cigarette smoking following successful quitting. This is an important advance in the fight against this major threat to health.


So, kick the smoking habit with mindfulness.


“evidence suggests that exercises aimed at increasing self-control, such as mindfulness meditation, can decrease the unconscious influences that motivate a person to smoke,” – Nora Volkow


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies



Study Summary

Oikonomou MT, Arvanitis M, Sokolove RL. Mindfulness training for smoking cessation: A meta-analysis of randomized-controlled trials. J Health Psychol. 2016 Apr 4. pii: 1359105316637667. [Epub ahead of print]



Recent studies have shown that mindfulness training has a promising potential for smoking treatment. In order to examine the efficacy of mindfulness training in smoking cessation, we performed a systematic review of the literature and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Four randomized controlled trials with 474 patients were included in our analysis. The results showed that 25.2 percent of participants remained abstinent for more than 4 months in the mindfulness group compared to 13.6 percent of those who received usual care therapy (relative risk, 1.88; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.04–3.40). Our results suggest that mindfulness training may have an important role to play in efforts to lower cigarette smoking rates.


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