Cigarette smoking results in more than 440,000 deaths in the United States each year, with an additional 8.6 million people suffering from a serious smoking-related illness. Despite the recognition of its harms, nicotine addiction is notoriously difficult to overcome. Previous research has shown links between smoking and deficits in self-control. A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that a short course of training in mindfulness meditation (a method known to improve self-control) led to significant spontaneous reductions in both objective (CO levels) and subjective (self-report) measures of smoking in a group of young adults, compared to another group that received the same amount of relaxation training. Both smokers and nonsmokers were included in the study, which also measured activation in brain areas associated with self-control. Prior to the 2-week meditation or relaxation course (5 hours of total training), smokers showed reduced activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a brain area associated with self-control, compared to nonsmokers. After the course, the smokers receiving the meditation training (but not those receiving relaxation training) showed greater activity in the ACC than before. Study participants were recruited based on an interest in stress reduction, not quitting smoking, and smokers in both the meditation and relaxation training conditions were not explicitly encouraged or instructed to resist their smoking cravings. Significantly, the smoking reductions in participants receiving meditation training did not vary with their prior self-reported intention (versus non-intention) to quit smoking, and some smokers were not even aware of their less-frequent smoking following the meditation training until prompted to quantify their cigarette use. These results suggest that meditation training may be an effective, brief, and low-cost intervention to reduce smoking even in individuals with no intention to quit.
For a copy of the article abstract, go to www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/07/31/1311887110.abstract.
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