Advertising Smoking Cessation Hypnotherapy

Advertising Smoking Cessation Hypnotherapy

Sole copyright © Donald Robertson, 2007

[The text of this article was checked and approved by Donna Mitchell of the ASA Communications Team (31/1/07) before publication by the NCH journal and GHR newsletter.]

What advertising claims can you make about hypnotherapy to quit smoking?  There are three main restrictions which bind UK hypnotherapists,

  1. The UK law insofar as it restricts certain forms of advertising.
  2. Having made an agreement to abide by their (NCH) code of ethics, they are bound to abide by any restrictions imposed by their professional body, failure to do so might be construed as a breach of contract.
  3. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) administer self-regulatory codes of practice for the advertising sector.  Written advertisements are regulated by the CAP Code (the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing – or

The ASA have the power to investigate complaints about specific advertisements and to impose sanctions on advertisers who break their codes.  They publish a very useful database of adjudications online.

I should mention in passing that, unfortunately, the ASA database shows that a number of therapists, including hypnotherapists, have made advertising claims in the past which they have been unable to substantiate when evidence was requested by the ASA Council.  The adjudications make very interesting reading.

All hypnotherapists should be aware that the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which is responsible for writing the CAP Code that is administered by the ASA, publishes a number of very valuable articles in their AdviceOnline database available from their main website.  In particular, hypnotherapists should be familiar with,

1. Ailments, Treatments and Therapies: General

2. Ailments, Treatments and Therapies: Hypnotherapy

3. Smoking, Stopping

CAP also provide a very useful service through the CAP Copy Advice team who will inspect your proposed advertising copy and make recommendations on wording to help ensure it complies with the codes.  Several of our students have found this service very helpful.  In fact, the Copy Advice team have not only helped us avoid transgressions but actually, on a more positive note, came up with some good ideas for new advertising headlines!

One important requirement of the CAP Code is that specific claims should be supported by appropriate evidence.  We spotted that an adjudication relating to Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) had made use of the important meta-analysis by Viswesvaran and Schmidt (1992) of the University of Iowa.  This study compares many different pieces of individual research to compare the efficacy of different methods of stopping smoking.  The evidence shows that NRT is more effective than willpower alone.  (A finding, incidentally, which many researchers now consider a research artefact due to the dubious research design used with NRT.)  However, we were aware from our own research that this study also authoritatively shows hypnotherapy to be more effective than NRT for smoking cessation.

I believe that there are strong grounds for concluding that meta-analysis tends to substantially underestimate the efficacy of treatments like hypnotherapy which can evolve significantly in response to research findings, unlike chemical therapies including NRT and Zyban, which are pretty fixed in their nature and therefore do not improve much over time.  If you take the statistical average of old studies using clumsy hypnotherapy methods and new ones using sophisticated multi-component cognitive-behavioural hypnotherapy strategies you necessarily negate the benefits of progress that has been made over time.  Nevertheless, even in these unfavourable conditions, research consistently shows hypnotherapy to be more effective than NRT and other treatments.  It is therefore something of a scandal that anti-smoking charities and the NHS continue to recommend NRT as the treatment of choice for smoking and resist calls to endorse hypnotherapy.  Most therapists suspect that this has something to do with the David versus Goliath problem, the voice of the hypnotherapy profession is inherently feeble, indeed virtually non-existent, compared to the “Big Pharm” lobby who have the ears of the decision makers and media.

It is my personal belief, based on the research, that NRT will be conclusively shown to be of negligible efficacy within the next ten years or so.  It’s not much better than placebos, i.e., dummy patches.  As my students know, I believe that the key to smoking cessation lies in evidence-based client selection procedures derived from other research studies.  We provide training in our own approach on our “Smoking Cessation Masterclass” available in central London.  Most private hypnotherapists will not undertake treatment with clients who they feel are unmotivated or only coming for treatment because someone else wants them to stop smoking.  That’s just common sense.  There are much more sophisticated and empirically-based ways of assessing clients’ suitability for treatment, though.

We attempted to take a proactive stance on advertising smoking cessation by submitting our own advertising copy to the copy advice team for approval, and supporting specific claims by reference to independent research.  The copy advice team exchanged several emails with us during which we carefully revised our wording until we arrived at agreement upon the following wording,

Smoking Cessation Hypnotherapy

Research comparing many different studies of hypnotherapy has shown that on average smokers are over five times more likely to break the habit with hypnosis than by willpower alone.  Hypnotherapy in general is also proven to be more than twice as effective compared with nicotine gum.

If you really want to stop smoking, then one session of hypnotherapy could be all you need.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Your money back if you’re not happy with the treatment.  You have to want to stop smoking to succeed but hypnotherapy can help dramatically.  We are so confident that you will find our package of treatment beneficial that we guarantee to refund your payment in full if you are not satisfied with the quality of service provided by our clinic.*

Obviously, this is a template and individual advertisers would need to add their details and modify the wording to suit their requirements.  However, we would recommend that any changes to wording which might change the meaning or even connotation should be cleared with the CAP Copy Advice team on an individual basis.  In particular, the Copy Advice team were insistent that the wording make it clear that the evidence relates to hypnotherapy in general and not the outcome rates for the specific practice being advertised.  We eventually agreed that the wording above satisfied this requirement.

* Clarification.  Since publication of this article, several professional organisations have emphasised that they think the guarantee should be time-limited.  This wording was only meant to demonstrate the kind of claims that could be acceptable, we never intended hypnotherapists to use it as it stands without further elaboration.  As you can see from our manual, we have ourselves always recommended that satisfaction guarantees are time-limited.

  1. M.C

    You will see Hypnotherapist making claims of how good they are at smoking cessation. I got involved with hypnotherapy via using it my self to quit smoking. Here’s how I was first taught, do three sessions with the client to gradually get them off nicotine. This clashed with my own experiences of just one session which had nothing to do with nicotine reduction. I never used the three session technique but watch all other students fail dramatically. Our so called teacher claimed a 98% success rate with smoking. I asked how he worked the percentage out, his reply after the third session if they don’t contact you assume complete success. You could never get an accurate success rate because all Hypnotherapists are using different techniques and in my opinion most of the techniques are slung together made up nonsense. As for myself it took me two years to find the correct none contradictory technique. I spent time with the Hypnotherapist that I used to quit smoking and I now know this is the only correct technique.

  2. UK College of Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy

    The only thing I’d qualify slightly about your comments, Michael, is that research on smoking cessation suggests there are a number of different approaches which can help people to successfully quit smoking. See our other blog post on smoking cessation hypnotherapy:

    I’ve never heard of gradually “getting people off nicotine” as being a strategy in smoking cessation. Nicotine withdrawal is a factor, more in some cases than others, but the main factors are normally confidence, motivation and the ability to cope with high-risk situations and possible urges or other setbacks, i.e., relapse prevention. However, the best approach will vary somewhat, depending on the needs of the individual. 98% is an absurd “success rate” claim and the method for measuring it described would be completely inaccurate and therefore grossly misleading, and possibly in breach of the Code of Advertising Practice and the professional codes of certain therapy registers. A number of training organisations appear to have encouraged students to use similar claims in advertising in the past, but it’s something we would definitely urge people to avoid.


    Donald Robertson

  3. Michael Crompton

    Great comments from the authors above. In my first post I think you may of missed the real point I was making. That is the person who took a vast amount of money of me and many more is totally deluded in his own capabilities and knowledge as a teacher. We could argue and discuss who or what technique is the best. There can only ever be one best technique or approach and I suppose we are all striving for that with the best of intentions. My intentions are not to disregard other successful approaches but expose total nonsense. So I hope no one has taken any offence.Thanks.

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