Inter-relationships between conditioned and primary reinforcement in the maintenance of cigarette smoking

Br J Addict. 1991 May;86(5):605-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.1991.tb01816.x.


Research on smoking cessation has increasingly focussed on pharmacological aspects of nicotine and nicotine withdrawal. However, cigarette smoking also provides a characteristic set of sensory cues. These sensory aspects of smoking are important to address in that they may be potent conditioned reinforcing stimuli linked to the actions of nicotine. The repetition of the smoking act thousands of times per year by a moderately heavy smoker leads to a strong conditioned association between the sensory aspects of smoking (the putative CS) and the pharmacological effects of nicotine (the putative UCS). Strategies for disrupting CS-UCS associations may be useful in developing more effective smoking cessation treatments. These include: counterconditioning of the CS; presenting the CS alone; presenting the CS with the UCS but pharmacologically blocking the UCS; and presenting the CS and UCS in an unconnected fashion. The role of sensory cues in alleviating craving for cigarettes is discussed, and specific techniques for duplicating relevant sensory aspects of smoking without delivering significant doses of nicotine are described. The combination of nicotine and nicotinic antagonists to block primary reinforcement and hasten extinction of conditioned reinforcement is also considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arousal / drug effects
  • Association Learning / drug effects
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Conditioning, Classical / drug effects*
  • Extinction, Psychological / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage
  • Nicotine / adverse effects*
  • Recurrence
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Smoking / therapy
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / prevention & control
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / psychology*


  • Nicotine