For many Americans, this is easier said than done. Smoking is a chemical addiction that those who don't smoke find incomprehensible. It takes more than will power, resolutions, good intentions, pleas from friends and relatives, public ordinances, medical problems and high cigarette prices to stop smoking.
If you have a respiratory illness, smoking will make it worse. If you live with someone who does, secondhand smoke will do the same. People still argue about the links between smoking and heart disease or breast cancer, but the links between smoking and emphysema, asthma, lung cancer and other respiratory problems are well-documented. Chewing tobacco, which has gained in popularity in recent years, has its own adverse side effects, including cancers of the mouth and throat.
Of all the approaches to quitting, and there are many, two of the most effective may be acupuncture and orthomolecular medicine. Acupuncture has an impressive record in treating all kinds of addictions, not just smoking, as does orthomolecular medicine, which treats illness with nutritional supplements.
In the Winter 1993 issue of The Herb Quarterly, herbalist Elizabeth Phillips reviewed plants that help smokers quit. "These herbs will regulate a smoker's mood (no more irritability)," she wrote, "and the accompanying urge to overeat as nicotine intake stops, and they will cleanse the system of nicotine and the lungs of tar sediment. And they will do all that simply, easily and safely."
The herbs in Phillips's program are the sedative herbs valerian root, chamomile and skullcap; licorice root and comfrey, which reduce the symptoms of drug withdrawal; black cohosh, burdock root and red clover for blood cleansing; slippery elm bark and fenugreek, which help remove mucus from the lungs; catnip, magnolia and peppermint, which aid the smoker in quitting; and echinacea to support the immune system. These herbs are alternated during the program so you use slightly different combinations every day.
To brew each tea, bring 1/2 cup water to a boil in a small, pan (the recipes are for 4-ounce teacups), add the required amount of dry herbs, cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Strain and serve.
Phillips advised starting the day with a 4-ounce cup of tea made with 1/2 teaspoon each of chamomile (or scullcap) and valerian root. At mid-morning, mix 1/2 teaspoon licorice root with 1/2 teaspoon comfrey leaf. At noon, brew 1/2 teaspoon black cohosh with 1/2 teaspoon burdock root or red clover. In the early afternoon, combine 1/2 teaspoon slippery elm bark with 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek. Discontinue this tea when you stop coughing up mucus. In the late afternoon, mix 1/2 teaspoon magnolia with 1/2 teaspoon peppermint or catnip. Just before dinner, brew a cup of echinacea tea using 1 teaspoon echinacea leaf. Sweeten any of these teas with honey or add a pinch of the herb stevia, a popular alternative to sugar. In addition, Phillips recommended taking 500 mg of vitamin C, a vitamin E capsule and one tablet of goldenseal root daily, although goldenseal, like untreated licorice root, is not recommended for those with heart disease.
Since Phillips's article was published, comfrey has been removed from many health food stores because of its alleged toxicity (see page 65). I would not hesitate to take the small amount of comfrey called for here, but you should study the evidence and make your own decision. If you decide not to use comfrey, substitute burdock root or red clover.
In addition to the herbs recommended above, here are three that can be real friends to anyone who is trying to quit smoking. The first is lobelia or Indian tobacco; the second is calamus root. Because both of these herbs come with FDA warnings, please read their descriptions carefully before using. The third helpful herb is oat grass or oatstraw, a tonic for the nerves.
It is easy to become discouraged if you try to quit smoking and fail. But there are so many approaches to this project that if you really want to stop, you will find one that works.