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David Baxter PhD

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Smoking Causes Memory And Cognitive Impairment In Adolescents
February 8, 2005

Yale University, New Haven, Conn. Adolescents who smoke show impairment of memory and other cognitive functions, according to a Yale study in Biological Psychiatry.

More than 4.5 million teenagers smoke cigarettes in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Leslie Jacobsen, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, and her research team tested working memory. This form of memory is used when keeping information in mind and manipulating it. They also evaluated verbal learning and memory, attention, mood, symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and tobacco cravings in 41 adolescent daily smokers and 32 nonsmokers. The groups were similar in age, gender and education.

"Adolescent smokers were found to have impairments in accuracy of working memory performance," Jacobsen said. Other studies show adult non-smokers and smokers have comparable focused, sustained and selective attention, and improved working memory, suggesting enhancement of performance by nicotine.

Male adolescents as a group begin smoking at an earlier age than female smokers and were significantly more impaired during tests of selective and divided attention, she said. All of the adolescent smokers also showed further disruption of working memory when they stopped smoking.

"These findings underscore the importance of efforts aimed at preventing smoking initiation in adolescents. They also show adolescents who are trying to quit smoking may need additional educational support," Jacobsen said.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Co-authors include John Krystal, M.D., W. Einar Mencl, Michael Westerveld, Stephen Frost, and Kenneth Pugh, of Yale.

Citation: Biological Psychiatry, Vol. 57; pp 56-66 (January 2005)
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Given the wealth of evidence that smoking damages your health, you would have to be stupid not to kick the habit. Now a study suggests this could be a self-fulfilling prophecy, because smoking reduces your IQ.

Lawrence Whalley at the University of Aberdeen and colleagues at the University of Edinburgh, both in the UK, looked at how the cognitive ability of 465 individuals, approximately half of whom were smokers, changed over their lifetime and whether this related to their smoking habits.

They had all been tested in 1947 at age 11 as part of the Scottish Mental Survey, which made no distinction between smoking habits. They were tested a second time between 2000 and 2002, when they were 64 years old.

Smokers performed significantly worse in five different cognitive tests than did both former smokers and those who had never smoked. When social and health factors such as education, occupation and alcohol consumption were taken into account, smoking still appeared to contribute to a drop in cognitive function of just under 1%.

A link between impaired lung function and cognitive ageing has long been suspected, though the mechanism is unclear. One possibility is that smoking subjects the vital organs, including the brain, to oxidative stress, Whalley says. "Ageing neurons are very sensitive to oxidative damage."

SOURCE: New Scientist
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