Previous research suggests that persistence, an individual difference characteristic representing the ability and willingness to maintain engagement in challenging or aversive contexts, may relate to smoking relapse. Improving understanding of the persistence-relapse risk association could guide improvements in behavioural interventions. We explored whether persistence and gender related to change in smoking urges across multiple cue exposure trials (an analogue of extinction learning and relapse risk). Participants included abstinent smokers who completed 12 massed, 5-minute smoking cue exposure trials using guided imagery as well as olfactory, tactile, visual and motor cues associated with smoking. We used multilevel logistic growth curve modelling to explore predictor associations with change in urge. Results suggested that gender related to urge whereby males showed greater initial and sustained reactivity than females. Persistence was not associated with female urge trajectories. However, compared to males with high persistence, males with low persistence evidenced sustained urge reactivity over time. Results suggest that greater persistence relates to reduction of conditioned responding (e.g., urges) among abstinent male smokers when exposure trials include complex cues most closely related to nicotine self-administration. Because persistence is modifiable, males with low persistence may benefit from interventions that include elements designed to increase persistence in urge eliciting situations.