51 Classically Conditioned Smoking Cues

Based on Research by Amy B. Lazev, Ph.D.. Psychology Science Minute written by Kyle Piecora, M.S.

The average smoker smokes 20 cigarettes per day, taking 11 puffs each.  In one year, this means 80,000 drug hits. Classical conditioning suggests that when smoking repeatedly follows a neutral stimulus, conditioned responses should develop to that stimulus.

Researchers Dr. Lazev and colleagues demonstrated that smoking cues can trigger cravings for tobacco, making quitting difficult and relapse more likely.  For 22 days, 8 smokers received different sensory cues such as colored lights, specific music, or citrus or cinnamon scents while either smoking or not smoking.  Smokers reported a much greater urge to smoke, and their pulse rates increased, when they encountered the environmental cues that were paired with smoking, not to cues paired with nonsmoking.  People automatically learned to want to smoke when certain cues are present.

Stopping smoking is complicated but doable, involving more than just willpower.  To change a habit, notice the sights, smells, sounds you associate with it.  What we know from research is that if you consistently do not smoke in the presence of those cues, the cues will lose their power to create smoking urges.  Avoid those cues and practice resisting the urge to smoke in their presence.  Self-awareness of the cues can help us monitor and change our behaviors to live healthier lifestyles!


Lazev, Amy B., Herzog, T. A., & Brandon, T.H.  (1999).  Classical conditioning of environmental cues to cigarette smoking.  Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 7(1), p. 56-63.

See previous Psychology Science Minute for understanding more about Classical Conditioning:

50  Pavlov Classical Conditioning

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