Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the US, accounting for approximately 1 in every 5 deaths. Almost half of all cigarettes are consumed by individuals with psychological disorders, which is why smoking among adults with psychological disorders is a recognized tobacco-related health disparity. Cigarette smokers are approximately twice as likely to have an anxiety or related disorder compared to the general US population, and anxiety is associated with lower smoking cessation success. However, quitting smoking can have positive effects on both improved physical health and mental health.
Much of our research aims to identify smokers who tend to smoke in response to anxiety or stress in order to cope with these emotions. We conduct laboratory research to understand who, and under what conditions, is at risk for persistent smoking. For example, we evaluate how individuals smoke cigarettes (“smoking topography”) as a way to behaviorally “detect” how valuable cigarettes are to an individual in certain emotional states. Smokers appear to modify how they smoke (e.g., larger and longer or more frequent puffs) in order to tailor when and how much nicotine is consumed to cope with anxiety and negative emotions. We utilize our laboratory research to inform the development of smoking cessation interventions for smokers who are at elevated risk for anxiety and/or with comorbid psychological symptoms or disorders.