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LYNN NEARY, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good Morning.

In Your Health today, we'll check up on whether a smoking ban really makes a difference. Banning smoking in public places is often done because of the dangers or irritation caused to people who do not smoke.

Research shows that bans actually affect people who do smoke. They decrease the overall number of cigarettes that people smoke and in some cases actually result in smokers quitting.

NPR's Patty Neighmond has more.

PATRICIA NEIGHMOND: One reason bans help people quit is simple biology. Inhaling tobacco actually increases the number of receptors in the brain that crave nicotine.

Richard Hurt is an internist who heads the Mayo Clinic's Nicotine Dependence Center.

Dr. RICHARD HURT (Mayo Clinic): We had a smoker compared to a nonsmoker and we were able to do an imaging study of the brain. The smoker would have billions more of the receptors that are in the areas of the brain that have to do with pleasure or reward.

NEIGHMOND: So removing the triggers that turn on those receptors is a good thing.

Dr. HURT: So when you're in this place where smoking is allowed, then your outside world is hooked to your receptors in your brain through your senses - through your sight, through your smell, through your ears, or your taste. So if you see someone smoking or if you smell the smoke from someone else's tobacco smoke or a cigarette, then that reminds the receptors; that's what produces the cravings and the urges to smoke.

NEIGHMOND: Hurt says bans help decrease the urge to smoke in another way: they de-normalize it. For example, where smoking is considered the norm - as it was in so many countries in Europe for so long - more people smoke. In places where smoking is no longer the norm - in California, for example - there are fewer smokers.

Research shows that nicotine replacement medications - like nicotine gum, patches or inhalers - double a smoker's chance of quitting; so does counseling and therapy. Add on to that a smoking ban, says Hurt, and the chance of successful quitting is even better.

Patty Neighmond, NPR News.

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