Moffitt Cancer Center Study Shows that Pain Causes Increased Desire to Smoke Cigarettes

July 01, 2008

Tampa, FL - More than half of all people with chronic pain are smokers, and research at Moffitt Cancer Center suggests that cigarette smoking may make chronically painful conditions worse.  In a recent study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Moffitt researchers found for the first time that smokers often have greater urges to smoke and smoke more cigarettes when they experience pain.

A research team from Moffitt and the University of South Florida examined this by bringing 132, pack-a-day smokers into the laboratory.  Half the smokers were randomly selected to undergo a pain-induction procedure. Pain was induced through what is called a laboratory cold-pressor procedure, which required the smokers to place their hand into ice-cold water (maintained between 0-1˚ Celsius) until they could no longer tolerate the pain. Once they removed their hand, the smokers were asked to indicate how badly they wanted a cigarette and were given the opportunity to smoke.

The smokers who experienced pain reported significantly worse moods and much greater cravings for cigarettes than those who did not experience pain. They were also quicker to reach for and light their cigarette if they underwent the painful procedure.

“This study provides the first experimental evidence that situational pain is a potent motivator of smoking, partially due to an increase in negative mood state,” said Thomas H. Brandon, Ph.D., author and director of Moffitt’s Tobacco Research & Intervention Program

The researchers are currently conducting a study to build upon these findings by examining ways to disrupt the relationship between pain and desire to smoke. Their hope is that findings from these studies will lead to new smoking cessation methods specifically for smokers who suffer from chronically painful conditions.

“This finding is especially relevant because people who smoke in response to pain may unknowingly be aggravating their painful condition while simultaneously increasing or maintaining their dependence on cigarettes,” said lead author Joseph W. Ditre, M.A., a doctoral student in the department of clinical psychology at the University of South Florida.

Despite new treatment options, smoking cessation rates are not steadily increasing. One reason for this may be that some portions of the smoking population are more dependent on tobacco, and therefore require more specialized treatment. “Smoking appears to be a prominent feature of painful conditions, and the health implications of smoking worsening chronic pain could only be compounded if the pain itself further increases smoking behavior,” said Ditre. “Smokers who live with chronic pain may be smoking for reasons that are unique to their condition, and smoking cessation treatments may benefit from taking those reasons into consideration,” he said.

About Moffitt Cancer Center

Located in Tampa, Florida, Moffitt Cancer Center ( is the only Florida-based cancer center with the NCI designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center for its excellence in research and contributions to clinical trials, prevention and cancer control. Moffitt currently has 15 affiliates in Florida, one in Georgia and two in Puerto Rico. Additionally, Moffitt is a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, a prestigious alliance of the country’s leading cancer centers, and is listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” for cancer and ear, nose and throat. Moffitt’s sole mission is to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer.