Medical Moment: Why it might be harder for some smokers to quit

Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 6:30 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - Your genes are really something else! No, we’re not talking Levi’s or Dockers!

We’re talking about the stuff that’s at the core of each one of us.

Genetics can make you predisposed to preferences like loving sugary snacks, and, as it turns out, that might also be the case for some smokers.

“What happens, biochemically, when someone smokes a cigarette is that the nicotine is absorbed through the lungs and very quickly goes to the brain, which provides the pleasant effects of nicotine,” said Scott Lee, at Vanderbilt.

Some smokers who quickly metabolize nicotine are almost immediately looking for more. It’s also very hard for them to quit.

“Now that we’re starting to understand that genetics shapes parts of smoking,” Lee explained.

Professor Lee and his colleagues studied 321 smokers, of which 241 had the high-metabolizing gene. They used patches and gum, but added psychological and emotional support to see if more smokers would quit.

“Providing more behavioral support to fast metabolizers increased the quit rate to 17%,” Lee continued.

That’s significant for long-time smokers like Elizabeth Jajko, who smoked a pack a day for 18 years.

“I had a blood clot in my leg. I’m prone to them,” Jajko said.

Professor Lee says, that combining the traditional patch and gum with emotional and psychological support makes all the difference. These health coaches remind smokers why they want and need to quit.

“It works, but it’s just like anything; you have to really want to, you know. You have to put your mind to it,” Lee said.

Most communities offer help for quitting smoking; just check with your county health department.