There is evidence that women may be less successful when attempting to quit smoking than men. One potential contributory cause of this gender difference is differential craving and stress reactivity to smoking- and negative affect/stress-related cues. The present human laboratory study investigated the effects of gender on reactivity to smoking and negative affect/stress cues by exposing nicotine dependent women (n = 37) and men (n = 53) smokers to two active cue types, each with an associated control cue: (1) in vivo smoking cues and in vivo neutral control cues, and (2) imagery-based negative affect/stress script and a neutral/relaxing control script. Both before and after each cue/script, participants provided subjective reports of smoking-related craving and affective reactions. Heart rate (HR) and skin conductance (SC) responses were also measured. Results indicated that participants reported greater craving and SC in response to smoking versus neutral cues and greater subjective stress in response to the negative affect/stress versus neutral/relaxing script. With respect to gender differences, women evidenced greater craving, stress and arousal ratings and lower valence ratings (greater negative emotion) in response to the negative affect/stressful script. While there were no gender differences in responses to smoking cues, women trended towards higher arousal ratings. Implications of the findings for treatment and tobacco-related morbidity and mortality are discussed.
(Am J Addict 2012;21:210–220)