Is Smoking in Your Genes?


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Of the 45.3 million people who smoke, each metabolizes nicotine at a different rate of speed. Researchers know if they need more nicotine more often, they are genetically predisposed to finding it harder to quit. So, a Vanderbilt University study used enhanced treatment counseling, along with patches and gum, to see if more high metabolizers would quit. Smoking

“What happens, biochemically, when someone smokes a cigarette is that the nicotine is absorbed through the lungs and very quickly goes to the brain, which provides the pleasant effects of nicotine,” explains assistant professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Scott Lee, MD, PhD, MPA, MPhil.

(Read Full Interview)

Some smokers who quickly metabolize nicotine are almost immediately looking for more. It’s also very hard for them to quit.

“Now, we’re starting to understand that genetics shapes parts of smoking,” Dr. Lee further explains.

Dr. Lee and his colleagues studied 321 smokers, of which 241 had the high-metabolizing gene. They used patches and gum, but added psychological and emotional support to see if more smokers would quit.

“Providing more behavioral support to fast metabolizers increased that quit rate to 17 percent,” Dr. Lee adds.

That’s significant for long-time smokers like Elizabeth Jajko, who smoked a pack a day for 18 years.

Jajko tells Ivanhoe, “I had a blood clot in my leg. I’m prone to them.”

Dr. Lee says, by combining the traditional patch and gum with emotional and psychological support, it makes all the difference. These health coaches remind smokers why they want and need to quit.

“It works, but it’s just like anything, you have to really want to, you know. You have to put your mind to it,” Jajko emphasizes.

Post-study, some participants received telephone calls from a state quit line to continue cessation counseling and they were given free nicotine patches. Vanderbilt provided other participants with extra tobacco treatment counselors for emotional support. Dr. Lee advises checking with programs near where you live to increase your chances of quitting.

Contributors to this news report include: Donna Parker, Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer & Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #5271

BACKGROUND: Genetics play a vital role in determining how quickly smokers metabolize nicotine, ultimately influencing their addiction risk to smoking. Specific genes, like the CYP2A6 enzyme, are responsible for metabolizing nicotine. There is another gene responsible for increasing the risk of nicotine addiction, this is known as CHRNA5. For those born with a high metabolizing gene, the addictive properties of smoking can be more intense and increase the likelihood of extreme addiction to tobacco. On the opposing end, individuals with slower nicotine metabolism may find it harder to achieve the same satisfaction from smoking, potentially lowering their chances of growing addicted.


TECHNIQUES TO QUIT SMOKING: Methods such as Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) are beneficial for highly addicted smokers on their journey to quit. With NRT, a variety of items are produced to help wean smokers off of nicotine. Things such as chewing gum, skin patches, lozenges, inhalers, and nasal sprays are infused with controlled doses of nicotine to help curb the incessant cravings for the drug. These items are void of the harmful substances found in tobacco smoke and aid in reducing withdrawal symptoms. Through NRT, smokers are provided a safer and more controlled way to satisfy their addiction and break the habit indefinitely. Smoking is often tied to triggers, such as stress, anxiety, or certain social situations. By prioritizing psychological needs (through emotional support groups, family, and friends) individuals can identify these triggers and form healthier coping mechanisms.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), uses magnetic plates to trigger areas of the brain involved in addiction. When tested, it had modest quit rates in smokers, but it did block nicotine receptors in the brain. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration decided to approve the continuation of TMS as a means to help smokers quit. Neuroscientist, Abraham Zangen, at the Ben-Gurion University of Negev in Israel conducted a study in 2007 surrounding TMS that yielded hopeful results. People who’d experienced damage to their insula (a part of the cerebral cortex), when given TMS was pronounced more likely to kick the addiction than those who had damage in other parts of the brain. Zangen concluded that electrically zapping the insula could yield similar results for others.



Craig Boerner

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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Dr. Scott Lee, Associate Professor of Medicine

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