Sitting in the stark two room facility of 'I Quit Smoking' (IQS) centre I couldn't come to grips with the fact that an ear treatment could rid the smoker of his or her addiction of puffing away on innumerable cigarettes each day.
I had heard of nicotine patches, nicotine gum, dummy cigarettes, hypnosis, acupuncture to gradually break away from the habit of lighting up but auriculotherapy was a totally new concept for me.
As I was ushered in the inner sanctum of the facility, I met Dr Zaid Rushdy Arekat who is responsible for bringing IQS to the island.
A cardio thoracic and vascular surgeon by profession, Dr Zaid is vehemently opposed to the scourge that afflicts one third of the adult Bahraini population.
"My patients I had performed open heart surgeries on, used to come to me for a follow up visit a week after being discharged from the hospital and I could smell cigarette smoke on them.
"I would get extremely annoyed and tell them that you spend between BD4,000 and BD5,000 on the surgery, stay 12 weeks in the hospital recovering and I spend four hours in the operation theatre for an exercise which is futile if you are going back to the habit that will aggravate your condition.
"Some of my patients wanted to quit but didn't know how to escape the addiction which is when I started looking at ways to help them," said the Canadian-trained Bahraini Surgeon.
Dr Zaid came upon the IQS concept and visited the IQS centre in Beruit, Lebanon, the only one in the region at the time. In May 2006 he set up the first and the only IQS franchaise in Bahrain. To date IQS has treated 300 Smokers in Bahrain and has a success rate of 90 per cent with a 60:40 male to female ratio visiting the centre aged between 20 to 60 years.
So how does the treatment work? IQS works on the principle of auriculotherapy whereby several points - 18 in the right ear and 19 in the left - in both ears are stimulated by low voltage electro pulses through a hand held probe which is part of a device known as Reflection Instrument Scanning Electropulse (RISE).
The device delivers infrared current to key ear points that are just a few millimetres apart from each other.
This results in the release of feel good hormones or endorphins that block nicotine molecules and receptors related to tobacco addiction consequently causing a diminished desire for nicotine.
"With each successive session (there are a maximum of five), the smoker loses the desire to smoke as the addiction cells become inactive. So the treatment really takes care of the addiction and the smoker has to make an effort to bring about some lifestyle changes to quit.
"The treatment and breaking away from old habits go hand in hand to yield positive results. In my experience I see an 80:20 addiction to habit ratio in men whereas the ratio is 70:30 in women," Dr Zaid said explaining how the treatment works.
"A person is either a smoker or a non-smoker. There are no grey areas. So if a previous smoker starts smoking again he is re-activating the cells that have gone off to sleep and gets into the vicious addictive cycle," he added.
"Nicotine, carbon monoxide, tar and cancer causing agents are the poisonous by-products of smoking. Ten to 12 hours after quitting smoking the carbon monoxide level is the same as that in a non-smoker's body."
Dr Zaid agrees that the smoker has to be committed to quit smoking as it is a process that requires single-mindedness.
The treatment costs BD190 for a total of five sessions which includes regular follow up for six months and useful information on how to break away the habit of smoking. In the first session Dr Zaid, through extensive questioning, deciphers the smoker's day-to-day life pattern and the desire to smoke.
Through the course of the first treatment session he explains the harmful effects of cigarette smoke that the smoker is already experiencing and offers solutions to breaking the bad habits.
Each session takes approximately an hour and the frequency and the need for the session depends on each smoker's addiction levels which are calculated by the RISE device.
The treatment is not the same for every smoker but personalized according to every individual's smoking habits and lifestyle. Hence every session takes the smoker one step closer to a healthier way of life and takes him away from the deadly habit of puffing his life away in a plume of smoke.
For more information contact IQS at 17554244.
Dr Zaid's tips for quitting smoking
Craving for smoking is a chemical reaction in the brain that lasts between one to two minutes. You can ignore it by doing deep breathing exercises.
Get rid of everything that has a relationship to smoking like ashtrays, lighters etc.
Drink three to four litres litres of liquid.
Break your routine and be more active.
Use chewing gum, cinnamon sticks and liquorice sticks.
Tell your friends who are smokers to refrain from smoking in front of you.
What is auriculotherapy?
Auriculotherapy typically refers to electrical stimulation of the surface of ear reflex points for treatment of health conditions in other parts of the body. At times stimulation is achieved by acupuncture needles known as auricular acupuncture or by manual pressure referred to as auricular acupressure or ear reflexology.
The basic concept of Auriculotherapy is that nerves in the skin overlying specific areas of the external ear correspond to specific parts of the brain which has reflex connections to the body. Both animal research and human studies have shown that stimulation of auricular points appear to cause systemic release of endorphins.
The most commonly reported uses of auriculotherapy have been for the control of chronic pain, detoxification from addictive drugs, smoking, relief of nausea and reducing hypertension.
I Quit Smoking: Case study
Kathryn Szecowka, 43, mother of two from Saar, has been a smoker since the age of 16. She is married to GulfWeekly's editor, Stan.
She has tried to quit on six occasions but it never lasted for more than three to four days, apart from during her two pregnancies after which she went back to smoking almost immediately. She had tried hypnotherapy and nicotine patches but nothing worked successfully.
Kathryn smokes 10-15 cigarettes a day and had a tell-tale smoker's cough when she came into IQS. She normally lights up her menthol cigarette as soon as she wakes up in the morning. "I want to quit smoking because I want to see my children, Imogen, eight, and Stan, four, grow up," she said.
After putting her personal data into the RISE device the computer classified her as a heavy smoker and spewed a figure that made Kathryn balk: she has smoked 150,000 cigarettes already and is a 10 on an 11 addiction scale.
Dr Zaid asked her to smoke her last cigarette and then drop her packet of Phillip Morris on her way in.
"I'm nervous. It's like losing a part of me or my best friend that has been with me for a long time," she said as she sat in the reclining chair before the treatment.
Jackie, the technician administering the treatment aimed the probe on Kathryn's right ear and with every 'beep' from the computer moved on to the next auricular point. The duration of each electro impulse was 60 seconds at an intensity that RISE calculated for Kathryn's case.
"It felt as though pins were going in my ear. My ears felt warm. It was not painful but uncomfortable," she said, very tense at first but slowly relaxing a couple of minutes into the treatment.
After the first session Kathryn was all wired up. She went home and threw all the extra pack of cigarettes stored away and got rid of all the ashtrays in the house.
Day 1: Kathryn was nervous about getting out of bed because the first thing she normally did was to smoke her first cigarette of the day. She felt the urge to light up but her mind was telling her that she does not want it. She had a lot of chewing gum and water throughout the day. At night she went out with friends and was dreading it as under normal circumstances she would have smoked a couple of cigarettes but to her surprise that evening she didn't feel the need to smoke.
Day 2: The effect of the first session still lingered as Kathryn braved her day without the one constant factor in her life: her cigarette.
Day 3: Kathryn went in for her second dose of auriculotherapy in the morning. "I'm really pleased with myself as the treatment, apart from taking care of the addiction factor, it gives me the confidence and support to carry on. I feel I can do this," she said.
Day 4: The treatment is taking care of the addiction and Kathryn is determined to let go of the habit. She is chewing a lot of ordinary gum. Her friends who smoke are being supportive and don't smoke any more in front of her as they know that she is trying to quit.
And on: Although Kathryn has just had two sessions so far she plans to go in for another treatment session next month. She went for her first treatment at IQS on January 2, 2008 and hasn't smoked since.
This is the longest time that she has been a non-smoker.
She said: "Being a smoker you're in denial of the ill-effects of smoking. But I needed Dr Zaid to tell me how smoking was affecting my lungs, which in my opinion is a very important aspect of the treatment.
"I haven't coughed since I stopped smoking and I feel healthier. When I was a smoker I didn't have breakfast or lunch, instead I used to pick throughout the day and have dinner at the end of the day.
"Now I have breakfast, lunch and dinner which is a healthier lifestyle habit. It has been easy although I was very nervous initially.
"I have only put on approximately 2kg in weight which was an initial concern about stopping smoking but I don't see myself picking up another cigarette in future."