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Nicotine Tob Res. 2014 Feb;16(2):208-15. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntt147. Epub 2013 Sep 16.

Craving, cue reactivity, and stimulus control among early-stage young smokers: effects of smoking intensity and gender.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC;



Smoking initiation usually begins in adolescence, but how and for whom nicotine dependence emerges during this period is unclear. The cue-reactivity paradigm is well suited to examine one marker of dependence: craving-related stimulus control, i.e., the ability of environmental cues to elicit craving to smoke. This study examined the effects of both level of smoking involvement (daily vs. occasional smoking) and gender on reactivity to both smoking and alcohol cues.


Young (age range 16-20; 42% female) daily (n = 55) and occasional (n = 52) smokers were exposed to each of three counterbalanced cues: (a) in vivo smoking (e.g., sight, smell, lighting of cigarette), (b) alcohol (e.g., opening, pouring, and smell of preferred beverage), and (c) neutral cue.


Daily smokers exhibited higher levels of tonic (i.e., noncue-elicited) craving than did occasional smokers. Both groups showed significant increases in craving in response to cues (i.e., cue-elicited craving), with little evidence that cue-elicited craving differed between groups. Females were more cue reactive to both the alcohol and smoking cues than males, particularly for the positively reinforced aspects of smoking (i.e., hedonic craving). There were no gender × group interaction effects in response to either the alcohol or the smoking cue.


Findings show the presence of cue-elicited craving even among occasional smokers and are consistent with literature demonstrating heightened sensitivity to environmental cues among females. Cue-elicited craving may be one mechanism that contributes to the maintenance of smoking behavior and perhaps to the development of nicotine dependence within early stage smokers.

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