The Effects of E-Cigarette Visual Appearance on Craving and Withdrawal Symptoms in Abstinent Smokers

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Abstract

Electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use is becoming increasing popular among smokers, and there is a plethora of devices available. Nicotine delivery is clearly important for reducing tobacco craving and withdrawal symptoms, but other sensorimotor aspects of e-cigarettes (such as visual appearance) may contribute to this effect. This study explored whether it is important for an e-cigarette to visually resemble a tobacco cigarette in order to reduce craving and withdrawal symptoms. Sixty-three cigarette smokers (40% female, aged 18–65 years) who were not current e-cigarette users were randomly allocated to take ten 3-s puffs from either a white or a red first-generation e-cigarette following overnight abstinence. Current craving (urge to smoke) and nicotine withdrawal symptoms (using the Mood and Physical Symptoms Scale [MPSS]) were measured before and 10 min after use. Linear regression revealed higher craving and withdrawal symptoms in the red condition versus the white condition, but only among those who were e-cigarette naive (craving: B = .76, p = .009; withdrawal symptoms: B = 2.18, p = .009), not among those with e-cigarette experience (craving: B = −.08, p = .89; withdrawal symptoms: B = .24, p = .81), and these effects differed between groups (p = .04 and 0.01 for craving and withdrawal symptoms, respectively). In conclusion, cigarette-like appearance was associated with lower craving and withdrawal symptoms, but only for those with no prior e-cigarette experience. This effect, putatively mediated via classical conditioning or expectancies, may aid understanding of smokers’ initial preferences for “cigalike” e-cigarette devices.

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