Craving a Cigarette on an Overseas Flight?

Smoking is physically addicting — no one disputes that.  If you're a smoker and don't have access to cigarettes or permission to smoke, the depletion of nicotine in your system will trigger physical withdrawal symptoms that your brain can't control.  But, new research points out, some of your cravings are, indeed, a state of mind.

Airplanes and cigarettes

Cigarette Smoking in Airplanes

The research does not provide immediate relief for such cravings, but does suggest there's hope for tempering your psychological “need” for a cigarette in the future.  So, when you're stuck on an airplane or in some other space where both traditional tobacco and electronic cigarettes are banned, you may be better able to cope with the lack of nicotine.

Permission to Smoke Increases Urges — Study

Scientists from Japan and Canada used MRI images to study the parts of the brain that control nicotine cravings.  They then applied magnetic fields to the targeted areas and found that some of the cravings disappeared.  The desire to smoke, they say, is greatest when you know you can smoke.  The magnetic fields put “no smoking” signs on your brain and decrease the urge.

“Our study shows the urge for smoking is not only about if smokers are running out of nicotine,” Takuya Hayashi, of Japan's RIKEN Center for Molecular Imaging Science, said in an article published in January in the New York Post.  Smokers' desire for a cigarette goes up when they knows it's OK to smoke.

“Cabin attendants who smoke say they feel stronger cravings for cigarettes as they approach landing times, no matter whether their flights are long-distance or not, “Hayahsi said.

Shutting Down the Part of the Brain that Triggers Nicotine Need

The mental connection between wanting to smoke and knowing it's OK to smoke, such as when a plane is about to land or you've just exited your office building, can be disconnected with strategically-placed magnetic fields.

Currently, there's no such thing as a magnetic field patch you can buy and attach to your head, but the research indicates that you can alleviate cravings if you avoid triggers, such as watching videos  that feature cigarette smokers.

So don't watch any James Dean, John Wayne or other in-flight movies in which the lead characters smoke, and don't watch Mad Men if you're confined to a no-smoking environment.

Some Triggers Unaffected

The study, which also included research by Alain Dagher of the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University, did not say whether magnetic fields would provide relief for other common triggers for nicotine cravings, which include feeling stressed, drinking coffee or tea and eating.

Electronic cigarettes can be used legally in many places where traditional cigarettes are not allowed.  Electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigarettes, are considered a tobacco product but they do not contain tobacco and do not emit smoke. Operated by batteries, an electronic cigarette includes a heating element.  It warms a flavored nicotine liquid until it forms a vapor that the user inhales.