Aims: To investigate the changes in the electroencephalographic (EEG) spectrum in smokers during exposure to a neutral and a smoking-related cue to determine whether these EEG changes are still present in ex-smokers after prolonged abstinence and to examine the relationship between the power in each spectral bandwidth and subjective craving. Methods: EEG frequencies in response to a smoking-related and a neutral cue were examined in 23 smokers and 21 ex-smokers, who quit smoking for 1.4 years on average. Additionally, self-report measures of cigarette craving and nicotine dependence were obtained. The spectral power of each bandwidth was computed, log-transformed, and analyzed using a within-subject design. Differences between EEG activity under neutral and smoking conditions were correlated with differences between pre- and postexperimental subjective craving. Results: Increases in reward craving (desire and intention to smoke) were associated with reduced theta activity, whereas increases in withdrawal craving (reduction of negative affect and withdrawal symptoms) were correlated with increases in both delta and higher alpha power. Furthermore, in smokers, but not in ex-smokers, a significant beta power increase was observed between the neutral condition and the smoking condition. Conclusion: Since the beta band is associated with arousal, attention, and alertness, it is suggested that the beta increase in response to the smoking cue might reflect an enhanced allocation of resources to smoking-related stimuli, i.e. a processing bias, which is an important feature of substance abuse. Since ex-smokers do not respond to the smoking cue with beta activity enhancement, we preliminarily conclude that smoking cues do not arouse ex-smokers or capture their attention as much as they do in smokers.

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