Smoking? It's all in your head: Israeli researcher

08:06, July 20, 2010      

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A recent study at Tel Aviv University suggests that the urge to light up a "coffin nail" is more a psychological issue than one of a chemical dependency, which may make finding ways of quitting easier.

"These findings might not be popular with advocates of the nicotine addiction theory, because they undermine the physiological role of nicotine and emphasize mind over matter when it comes to smoking," admitted Dr. Reuven Dar of the university's psychology department, who published his findings in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

Dar and his team monitored how flight attendants on Israel's El Al airlines dealt with the craving for a cigarette during the 10- 13 hour Tel Aviv-New York run, and on short hops to Europe and back.

As it turned out, via a questionnaire the smokers filled out after each flight, there was no difference in the intensity of the craving for a cigarette on either route, and the need to smoke at the end of the shorter flight was even higher than the intercontinental haul.

One finding was that cravings increased in anticipation of the flight landing, whatever the flight's total duration, leading the researchers to conclude that the effect comes from psychological cues rather than the physiological results of nicotine deprivation.

In a 2005 study, Dar spoke with a group of religious Jews who smoked. Jewish religious law forbids making fire to light a cigarette until the Sabbath ends 25 hours later.

Dar queried them about their smoking cravings in three separate days: the Sabbath, a regular weekday, and a weekday on which they' d been asked to abstain.

These smokers noted very low cravings on the Sabbath morning, when they knew they couldn't smoke until sunset. But the need grew as that first post-Sabbath puff drew closer.

Dar concluded that nicotine is not an addictive substance like heroin, which creates true systemic and biologically based withdrawal symptoms.

Dar believed that smokers do so for benefits like oral gratification, sensory pleasure and fitting in with others.

He said that if smoking is a habit, then more tightly-focused techniques could be used to break that habit, such as psychological and behavior-modification programs.

Some 20 percent of the world's population smoke, namely about 1. 35 billion people, according to the World Health Organization.

Source: Xinhua


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