Identifying and Tracking your Smoking Triggers

Blog Post created by dr_hurt on Jun 10, 2011

 Cue reactivity is a term used by researches to describe responses that a smoker has when exposed to a trigger to smoke.  In effect, it is a way to measure craving.  For example, smokers in a research study are shown a video of a person smoking a cigarette, and their reactions are compared to their reactions to a neutral video such as a nature video.  Reaction to the videos can be measured using a variety of methods including self-report rating scales, changes in skin conductance or increases in heart rate, changes in performance on a test that requires concentration, or through brain activity as measured by special scans.


This type of research shows that cues or triggers actually cause a measurable and automatic body response such as increased brain activity.  When you are exposed to smoking triggers, specific areas of your brain can become very over-reactive and can overwhelm your intentions not to smoke.  This research helps us give a smoker some good advice that can make it a little easier to quit smoking.



First of all know your triggers.  Triggers can be very personal.  What are they for you(click here if you need help identifying your smoking triggers)?  Some common ones are: seeing a cigarette or someone smoking, seeing an ash tray, hearing the flick of a lighter, smelling smoke, drinking coffee, seeing tobacco advertising, having an alcoholic drink, or just being in a room or a place where you normally smoke.


* Identify your triggers:


Are there things in you daily routine or in your environment that trigger you to smoke?  Try to pay attention to what these are.



* Track your triggers:


On a slip of paper tucked into your pack of cigarettes, in a small notebook, or on your smart-phone, jot down a trigger when you notice it.  What time was it?  Who were you with?  What kind of mood were you in?  Did you decide to smoke, or did you pass?



Use this information to plan your quit on BecomeAnEX.org.  Based on your notes, change your routine and things in your environment to limit your exposure to triggers – and make this project just a little easier.  Remember that though carvings can be very intense they do not last long.  Identifying the triggers will allow you to plan to avoid them or plan to deal with the cravings if the triggers are not avoidable.



Dr. Richard D. Hurt is an internationally recognized expert on tobacco dependence. A native of Murray, Kentucky, he joined Mayo Clinic in 1976 and is now a Professor of Medicine at its College of Medicine. In 1988, he founded the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center and since then its staff has treated more than 50,000 patients for tobacco dependence. Send your questions directly to Dr. Hurt at AskTheExpert@becomeanex.org