Background: Acupuncture and related techniques are promoted as a treatment for smoking cessation in the belief that they may reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Objectives: The objectives of this review are to determine the effectiveness of acupuncture and the related interventions of acupressure, laser therapy and electrostimulation in smoking cessation, in comparison with no intervention, sham treatment, or other interventions.
Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Tobacco Addiction Group Specialized Register (which includes trials of smoking cessation interventions identified from the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, and PsycINFO) and AMED in October 2013. We also searched four Chinese databases in September 2013: Sino-Med, China National Knowledge Infrastructure, Wanfang Data and VIP.
Selection criteria: Randomized trials comparing a form of acupuncture, acupressure, laser therapy or electrostimulation with either no intervention, sham treatment or another intervention for smoking cessation.
Data collection and analysis: We extracted data in duplicate on the type of smokers recruited, the nature of the intervention and control procedures, the outcome measures, method of randomization, and completeness of follow-up.We assessed abstinence from smoking at the earliest time-point (before six weeks) and at the last measurement point between six months and one year. We used the most rigorous definition of abstinence for each trial, and biochemically validated rates if available. Those lost to follow-up were counted as continuing smokers. Where appropriate, we performed meta-analysis pooling risk ratios using a fixed-effect model.
Main results: We included 38 studies. Based on three studies, acupuncture was not shown to be more effective than a waiting list control for long-term abstinence, with wide confidence intervals and evidence of heterogeneity (n = 393, risk ratio [RR] 1.79, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.98 to 3.28, I² = 57%). Compared with sham acupuncture, the RR for the short-term effect of acupuncture was 1.22 (95% CI 1.08 to 1.38), and for the long-term effect was 1.10 (95% CI 0.86 to 1.40). The studies were not judged to be free from bias, and there was evidence of funnel plot asymmetry with larger studies showing smaller effects. The heterogeneity between studies was not explained by the technique used. Acupuncture was less effective than nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). There was no evidence that acupuncture is superior to psychological interventions in the short- or long-term. There is limited evidence that acupressure is superior to sham acupressure for short-term outcomes (3 trials, n = 325, RR 2.54, 95% CI 1.27 to 5.08), but no trials reported long-term effects, The pooled estimate for studies testing an intervention that included continuous auricular stimulation suggested a short-term benefit compared to sham stimulation (14 trials, n = 1155, RR 1.69, 95% CI 1.32 to 2.16); subgroup analysis showed an effect for continuous acupressure (7 studies, n = 496, RR 2.73, 95% CI 1.78 to 4.18) but not acupuncture with indwelling needles (6 studies, n = 659, RR 1.24, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.69). At longer follow-up the CIs did not exclude no effect (5 trials, n = 570, RR 1.47, 95% CI 0.79 to 2.74). The evidence from two trials using laser stimulation was inconsistent and could not be combined. The combined evidence on electrostimulation suggests it is not superior to sham electrostimulation (short-term abstinence: 6 trials, n = 634, RR 1.13, 95% CI 0.87 to 1.46; long-term abstinence: 2 trials, n = 405, RR 0.87, 95% CI 0.61 to 1.23).
Authors' conclusions: Although pooled estimates suggest possible short-term effects there is no consistent, bias-free evidence that acupuncture, acupressure, or laser therapy have a sustained benefit on smoking cessation for six months or more. However, lack of evidence and methodological problems mean that no firm conclusions can be drawn. Electrostimulation is not effective for smoking cessation. Well-designed research into acupuncture, acupressure and laser stimulation is justified since these are popular interventions and safe when correctly applied, though these interventions alone are likely to be less effective than evidence-based interventions.