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For Ex-Smokers, Some Cigarette Cravings May Never Leave
Date:9/18/2010

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Sept. 17 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that the seductive power of smoking cues does not diminish over time for those who are trying to kick the habit.

The finding adds a new challenge to efforts to prevent relapse among those struggling to embark on a tobacco-free lifestyle.

"The main point is pretty straightforward," said study author Gillinder Bedi. "When people are exposed to things that they associate with a drug they use, they often feel an increase in craving."

Bedi, who conducted the research while with the department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago, said that the new twist her team discovered is that the impact of such cues apparently does not weaken as the period of abstinence lengthens.

"This means that quitting smokers may find that they are surprised by having a strong craving response when they come into contact with cues related to smoking, even after they have gotten through the initial withdrawal," she noted.

The team reports its findings in the current online issue of Biological Psychiatry.

To explore the issue of cravings, Bedi and her colleagues focused on 86 healthy male and female smokers who had not yet kicked the habit and weren't trying to do so.

Participants were divided into three groups: one instructed to stop smoking for a week; the second instructed to stop for two weeks; and the third instructed to stop for five weeks. As an incentive, all were paid $30 a day to try to quit.

On the last day of each group's abstinence period, each participant was exposed to a series of randomly presented cues designed to be either "neutral" or smoking-related. The latter included viewing photos of smoking situations while holding a lit cigarette, while the former involved viewing neutral photos while holding a pencil cut to the length of a cigarette.

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