Smoke and Lasers

Is the latest kick-the-habit craze legit?

I remember the last time I tried to quit smoking. It was a particularly cold, wet day in the winter of 2003, and I was deep into a gray vitamin-D-deprived funk. My doctor -- whom l'd just begged for a third prescription for Wellbutrin, an antidepressant proven to help reduce effects of nicotine withdrawal -- put a sturdy hand on my shoulder and gazed into my eyes with the intensity of a mad hypnotist.

"Chris," he said in a grandfatherly tone. "You really have to want to quit smoking."

I'd taken pills, chomped on nicotine gum, and worn the itchy patches that left a foul metallic taste in my mouth. I identified, then modified, behaviors that trigger my urge to smoke. I did everything a person who wants to quit smoking should do. But there was one powerful smoking trigger I could neither avoid nor overcome -- I'm a writer, and I can't remember so much as signing my name without the overwhelming urge to light up. So when I heard about the newest addition to the stop-smoking family, laser therapy, I was off to find Ricky Smith, the man with the lasers.

"That [writing trigger] is a problem," said Smith, himself a success story of laser therapy and owner of Liberty Laser Points (LLP). Since opening the East Memphis LLP office in October 2005, Smith -- a former smoker and employee of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company -- says about 60 percent of his clients have successfully stopped smoking. And though Smith is not a certified counselor (it's only been seven months since he gave up his beloved Benson & Hedges), he remembers well the joys of smoking and the frustrations of quitting, and talks easily with patients about the experience.

Smith uses the Omega XP Laser System, which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for temporary pain relief of tendonitis, though its marketed for many other purposes, from helping athletes recover from injury to, yes, smoking cessation. During a session, Smith stimulates 48 key acupressure points on the face and hands, with the laser lingering on each point for about 20 seconds. It's a nonmedical procedure, though patients are required to don protective eyewear during treatment. For $299, patients receive up to three laser sessions, with an option to purchase more.

The procedure was relaxing, and no more painful than a good facial, as Smith prodded a bit around the ears, nose, and hands. At the end of my first session, I felt relaxed and energized. Before I left, Smith offered me a bottle of water, and more importantly, support.

"I'll call and check in on you soon," he said, and he did. My first report wasn't hopeful, but after a second treatment I simply stopped craving cigarettes -- except when I sat down to write. After a third session, things got even better. Will I be one of Smith's success stories? I'm not sure, but I certainly hope so.

"It can take hard cases three or four treatments," Smith explained. "If you start to feel weak call me and we'll get you in quickly. If you're out of town, call and I'll set you up with a free treatment wherever you are."

For the record, this article wasn't written without the aid of cigarettes. But it almost was, and for the first time ever, quitting seems like a real possibility.

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