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Does extinction of responses to cigarette cues occur during smoking cessation?

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This study investigated whether Pavlovian extinction occurs during smoking cessation by determining whether experience abstaining from smoking in the presence of cigarette cues leads to decreased probability of lapsing and whether this effect is mediated by craving. Design 

Secondary analyses were carried out with data sets from two studies with correlational/observational designs. Setting 

Data were collected in smokers' natural environments using ecological momentary assessment techniques. Participants 

Sixty-one and 207 smokers who were attempting cessation participated. Measurements 

Multi-level path models were used to examine effects of prior experience abstaining in the presence of available cigarettes and while others were smoking on subsequent craving intensity and the probability of lapsing. Control variables included current cigarette availability, current exposure to others smoking, number of prior lapses and time in the study. Findings 

Both currently available cigarettes [odds ratios (OR) = 36.60, 11.59] and the current presence of other smoking (OR = 5.00, 1.52) were powerful predictors of smoking lapse. Repeated exposure to available cigarettes without smoking was associated with a significantly lower probability of lapse in subsequent episodes (OR = 0.44, 0.52). However, exposure to others smoking was not a reliable predictor, being significant only in the smaller study (OR = 0.30). Craving functioned as a mediator between extinction of available cigarettes and lapsing only in the smaller study and was not a mediator for extinction of others smoking in either study. Conclusions 

This study showed that exposure to available cigarettes is a large risk factor for lapsing, but that this risk can also be reduced over time by repeated exposures without smoking. Smoking cessation interventions should attempt to reduce cigarette exposure (by training cigarette avoidance) but recognize the potential advantage of unreinforced exposure to available cigarettes.

Keywords: Extinction; Pavlovian-instrumental transfer; smoking cessation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: University of Pittsburgh, Department of Psychology, Smoking Research Group, Pittsburgh PA, USA 2: Department of Human Development, Teachers College Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

Publication date: 2011-02-01

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