New Help For Smokers

What makes a smoker want to light up even in the face of obvious health risks? Researchers now believe cigarette smoke triggers a complex chemical reaction in the brain that's hard to resist. But what if you could achieve the same sensation without smoking?

Terry Boatright has a problem -- two pack a week problem. "I wish I wasn't smoking at all."

Jesse Baginski has an even bigger problem. He smokes a pack and a half a day. His lungs have already suffered serious damage. "I've tried the nicotine gum, a couple of different kinds of patches, I even tried hypnosis once," he says.

Researchers at the VA West Los Angeles Healthcare Center say they now better understand people like Boatright and Baginski's need to smoke. They say smoking releases chemicals in some of the pleasure-producing parts of the brain.

Psychologist Nicholas Caskey, Ph.D., of the VA West Los Angeles Healthcare Center, tells us, “Drugs like nicotine, the primary active ingredient of cigarette smoke, cocaine, and amphetamines, cause an increase in dopamine in those regions when those drugs are administered.”

In a study done at the VA center, 20 smokers took a dopamine-increasing drug called bromocriptine and then studied their smoking over a five-hour period. The smoking slowed considerably. A drug that impedes dopamine had the opposite effect.

Caskey says, “It may be possible in the future to develop a drug treatment for smoking that works directly on the brain chemical dopamine to help smokers quit smoking.”

That's good news for the 47 million smokers in the United States.

Dopamine is believed to play a role in regulating the addictive effects of other stimulating drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines. Bromocriptine is not currently FDA approved for smoking cessation.