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Friday, April 11, 2008

Do smokers prefer smoking over romance?

Which priority is greater inside the average smoker's brain, smoking that next cigarette or an erotic encounter? A new pupil dilation study suggests that deprived smokers who have gone three hours without smoking will likely exhibit greater favor for smoking than sex.

A study about to be published in The Journal of Physiological Sciences used a pupillometer to measure pupil response in 12 never-smokers and 7 smokers upon viewing a series of images. The smokers had mean averages of smoking 10.6 cigarettes per day and had smoked 6.7 years.

The study's Kyung Hee University authors, Younbyoung Chae, Jeung-Chan Lee, Kyung-Mo Park, O-Seok Kang, Hi-Joon Park and Hyejung Lee, devised a "pupillometer" in their lab. Pupil images were obtained using an infrared camera, an illumination module, a hot mirror module, a guide rail module on the helmet and a light source module. They designed the helmet-type pupil image acquisition system for less invasive measurement of pupil autonomic response. Pupil images were stored at 30 frames per second and processed to estimate pupil size.

Not only did smoker pupils show significantly greater dilation when shown a smoker smoking than when viewing a couple intimately embracing, the pupil dilation rate was quicker and when questioned afterwards they rated the smoking image as generating greater arousal.

Interestingly, the pupil size of never-smokers when viewing the smoking image showed the greatest decline among the four images viewed: (1) a neutral image (basket); (2) a pleasant image (erotic couple); (3) an unpleasant image (mutilation); and (4) a smoking image.

Chart from pupil size study showing smokers reacting to an image of a person smoking a cigarette

Imagine seeing life through a nicotine addict's pupils. Imagine encountering an entire day's worth of arousing nicotine feeding cues. Imagine being punished with insula driven urges, craves and anxieties when forced to wait too long between feedings. Imagine being rewarded with powerful dopamine pathway "aaah" sensations during replenishment. Imagine spending your entire life bouncing between arousal, punishment and reward. Imagine being totally convinced that your next nicotine feeding was more important than eating food or a romantic encounter. Welcome to the world of nicotine normal.

An open window to the mind, this study shows that changes in pupil size due to exposure to a visual imagery cue is an autonomic nervous system response capable of measurement. It raises a host of possibilities that future studies may be able to identify and study the intensity, timing characteristics, frequency, duration and extinguishment requirements associated with nicotine use triggering cues, regardless of drug delivery device.

It is not normal to ingest a central nervous system stimulant that makes the heart pound 20 beats per minute faster prior to climbing into bed. It is not normal to steal a dopamine "aaah" reward sensation after watching your mother take her final breath. Nor is it normal to have perpetual drug seeking and use interrupt life, to have greater priority than family, romance and friends.

While most tobacco control activists and experts see smoking related disease as the ultimate measure of nicotine addiction's harm, millions who wasted a massive chunk of life while engaged in self-discovery of the "law of addiction" via the school of hard-quitting-knocks now realize that the real nightmare isn't in how or when smoking kills you, but how nicotine, regardless of form of delivery, deprived us of the true flavor of life while alive.

Once ready to come home, remember, knowledge truly is a quitting method. You don't have to be stronger than nicotine as it is only a chemical with an I.Q. of zero. It cannot plot, plan or conspire and is not some demon that dwells within. Knowledge is power. Let it help you dump destructive anxiety generating fears. Yes you can!

Page last updated April 11, 2008 at 09:14 EST

Link to study abstract

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