- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007

Quitting smoking may have more to do with cold milk than cold turkey.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have determined that milk may help smokers break their cigarette habit — along with water, fruits and vegetables.

“The findings could lead to a ‘quit smoking diet,’ or to the development of a gum or throat lozenge that makes cigarettes less palatable,” said lead investigator Joseph McClernon, an assistant research professor of medical psychiatry at the university’s Center for Nicotine and Smoking Research.

The project was inspired by a simple fact. There are certain foods — coffee, cocktails, meats — which enhance the overall smoking experience, a notion that the nation’s 44 million cigarette smokers would most likely agree upon. Then again, there are edibles and potables which makes cigarettes taste downright ghastly.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse funded the study, which the researchers say is the first to explore the taste-altering effects of food and beverages on cigarettes. Mr. McClernon and his team asked 209 smokers to name items that either worsen or enhance the palatability of their brand.

Nineteen percent of participants reported that dairy products like milk or cheese worsen the taste; 16 percent reported fruits and vegetables were the culprits; and 14 percent voted for noncaffeinated beverages like water or juice.

Booze was a different story: 44 percent of the smokers say that alcoholic beverages enhanced the taste of cigarettes; 45 percent reported caffeinated drinks like tea, cola and coffee; and 11 percent reported meat, though they did not stipulate any particular variety.

Smokers who favored menthol cigarettes were less likely to say that certain foods or drinks affected the taste of cigarettes. The researchers suspect the menthol simply masked bad tastes altogether.

“With a few modifications to their diet — consuming items that make cigarettes taste bad, such as a cold glass of milk, and avoiding items that make cigarettes taste good, like a pint of beer — smokers can make quitting a bit easier,” Mr. McClernon said.

The process can be frustrating, prompting Mark Twain to remark, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.”

There are plenty of techniques to help kick the habit, including yoga, acupuncture, psychoanalysis, herbal supplements and myriad nicotine replacement drugs and patches. Some alternative research has been conducted on “nicotine detoxification diets.”

Simply identifying specific foods and beverages which ruin cigarette taste could lead to new treatments, said study co-author Jed E. Rose, director of the Duke center. But a vexing reality remains.

“Every deterrent treatment requires willpower,” Mr. Rose said. “This approach alone will not work. It may make cigarettes less pleasurable, but ultimately, if a person is craving a cigarette, he will start smoking again.”

He recommends that diet modifications be used with a standard nicotine replacement, such as a skin patch or gum.

The findings appear in the April 2007 issue of Nicotine and Tobacco Research, an academic journal.

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