STILLWATER — For smokers trying to quit their habit, that "last” cigarette is usually the final one in the pack. To an addict, cigarettes are so valued that not finishing the pack would be downright wasteful, said Oklahoma State University researcher Jared Dempsey. Even those who have quit but relapse and buy a pack are likely to smoke the entire thing, further derailing their cessation. His solution? Donate those unused cigarettes to science. Dempsey and his research team will use the cigarettes to help others stop smoking and to help understand the impact of visual cues on an addict’s brain. Dempsey will use some of the cigarettes in photographs of smokers and smoking that scientists across that world can use when testing brain reaction to positive and negative stimuli. For example, a smoker’s brain registers pleasure when seeing a cigarette being lit, but aversion to an image of a cigarette being finished. The cessation treatment Dempsey advocates is called brand-fading. Smokers are weaned off cigarettes by lowering nicotine levels, by only smoking brands they don’t like and with nicotine patches. "Smokers love their brand and their brand only,” said Dempsey, a psychology professor. "They do not like it when they smoke another brand.” Jean Gay Potts, a financial assistant at OSU, quit smoking in 1991 after a 20-year habit. She tried cigars, which she disliked, as she slowly weaned herself off her beloved Marlboro Lights. "I was tired of smoking and looking for an easy way to quit. There aren’t any,” Potts said. "One day I realized early in the afternoon that I had two cigarettes left in my last pack. I smoked the last cigarette just before I went to bed, vowing that I would not buy anymore. And I didn’t.” For others, cessation means breaking more than one habit because smoking often is associated with a specific behavior. "Smokers often use smoking during bonding events like partying with friends and also during the most painful moments in life,” Dempsey said. "The smoker is not only fighting a pure chemical addiction but is simultaneously losing a pleasurable activity with friends and also a support technique during emotionally difficult times.” About one in four Oklahoma adults now use tobacco products, compared to about one in five nationally. But 75 percent of Oklahoma adults and 50 percent of youth that use tobacco say they want to quit, according to the state Health Department. A federal study among the 50 states released earlier this year ranked Oklahoma as having the fifth-highest death rate from smoking. OSU became a smoke-free campus on July 1, 2008.
Marshall CheneyCheney, of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, is studying why blacks begin cigarette smoking at a later age than other groups and how to intervene.
Jennifer PeckPeck, assistant professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Oklahoma College of Public Health, is investigating gestational diabetes as a potential tobacco-related health problem.
Norman WongWong, of OU’s department of communication, will study the effectiveness of antismoking messages.
Jinying ZhaoZhao, associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the OU College of Public Health, will look at how smoking impacts genes and arteries in American Indians. SUSAN SIMPSON, STAFF WRITER