Impulsivity and Stress Response in Nondependent Smokers (Tobacco Chippers) in Comparison to Heavy Smokers and Nonsmokers

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Tobacco chippers are light smokers with stable patterns of smoking that exhibit lower nicotine dependence severity than heavy smokers. Chippers may provide valuable information about the factors influencing drug dependence. Impulsivity and stress are two factors known to influence smoking. By comparing nondependent smokers (tobacco chippers, n = 25) to dependent smokers (heavy smokers, n = 23) and nonsmokers (n = 25), this study examines the relationship between nicotine dependence, impulsivity, chronic stress, and stress reactivity.


A total of 73 adult participants completed a study visit that included questionnaires to measure nicotine dependence, chronic stress, personality, affect, withdrawal, and craving. Impulsivity was measured with the delay discounting task and the flanker task. Stress reactivity was assessed by monitoring respiration, heart rate, and salivary cortisol during performance of a titrated Stroop task. Effects of acute stress on affect and craving were examined.


Tobacco chippers were as impulsive as heavy smokers on the delay discounting task but no different from nonsmokers on the flanker task. Heavy smokers reported higher perceived stress than chippers and nonsmokers. Perceived stress was a significant predictor of discounting only in heavy smokers. Acute stress induced changes in respiration, heart rate, and heart rate variability. Craving and negative affect increased after stress in both smoking groups, but craving was associated with affect only in chippers.


Tobacco chippers do not differ from heavy smokers in impulsivity, but do differ in perceived stress. One’s perception and experience of stress might be associated to nicotine dependence resistance and could inform smoking cessation treatments.


By examining impulsivity, chronic stress, and stress reactivity in nondependent smokers (tobacco chippers) compared to dependent smokers and nonsmokers, this study contributes to the understanding of nicotine addiction and informs smoking cessation programs.

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