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Practical ways of reducing cigarette cravings
Robert West

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When smokers try to become ex-smokers the final link in the chain of events leading to relapse is that at some point their motivation to smoke a cigarette is greater than their motivation not to. A new synthetic theory of motivation (the p.r.i.m.e theory) provides a basis for understanding this balance of motivational forces and makes predictions about factors that will influence both sides of the equation. The term 'craving' can be taken to mean a powerful subjective experience of motivation to do something including feelings of desire and urge. Self-help guides and treatment programmes contain many ideas about how to avoid, reduce or cope with cravings but very little good research has been undertaken on this. This paper reviews the literature on what has been found
and what this implies about what causes cigarette cravings.
Nicotine replacement therapies of all kinds, including transdermal patches, when taken over a period of time reduce cravings in smokers attempting to stop. There is some evidence that patches that produces higher blood nicotine concentrations reduce cravings more than those that produce lower blood levels. Similarly bupropion has been found to reduce cravings. The nasal spray and gum have been found significantly to reduce an acute episode of craving in the laboratory - the spray apparently working more quickly. Relatively small amounts of physical activity have been reliably shown to reduce acute craving and so has oral glucose. The total experience of craving may be related to whether or not smokers perceive that their restraint as voluntary. This suggests further psychological techniques for reducing cravings that deserve to be tested.


Robert West is Professor of Health Psychology and Director of Tobacco Studies at the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Unit, University College London. He is also Editor of Addiction and has published over 250 scientific works. He has been researching tobacco use since 1982 and is co-author of both the English and Scottish National Smoking Cessation Guidelines. His current research includes clinical trials of new smoking cessation treatments, studies of the acute effects of cigarette withdrawal and population studies of smoking patterns

Robert West
Professor of Health Psychology,
Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Unit