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Teenage Addiction to Nicotine Negatively Affects Executive Functioning in the Brain


Let’s be honest, how many of you tried cigarettes in your youth?  I did.  I was what you called a social smoker, but I quit before high school graduation. It’s common knowledge cigarettes are bad for your health; however, a new study focuses specifically on how the adolescent brain is impacted by smoking.  The UCLA study reveals that teen nicotine addiction negatively affects brain function, specifically activity in prefrontal cortex.

Many teenagers have difficulties making decisions. It’s a time of life in between adulthood and childhood, and peers have a heavy influence.   Unfortunately, nicotine addiction only makes the situation worse. EurekAlert! explains:

The finding is obviously not good news for smokers, said the study’s senior author, Edythe London, a professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

“As the prefrontal cortex continues to develop during the critical period of adolescence, smoking may influence the trajectory of brain development and affect the function of the prefrontal cortex,” London said…

Protracted development of the prefrontal cortex has been implicated as a cause of poor decision-making in teens, London said, caused by immature cognitive control during adolescence.

“Such an effect can influence the ability of youth to make rational decisions regarding their well-being, and that includes the decision to stop smoking,” she said.

The key finding, London noted, is that “as the prefrontal cortex continues to develop during the critical period of adolescence, smoking may influence the trajectory of brain development, affecting the function of the prefrontal cortex. In turn, if the prefrontal cortex is negatively impacted, a teen may be more likely to start smoking and to keep smoking — instead of making the decision that would favor a healthier life.”

This study was funded by Philip Morris. A previous UCLA study funded by the tobacco industry raised controversy for animal testing and teen smoking.  This 2008 study was also led by London.  Join Together reports:

“It’s stunning in this day and age that a university would do secret research for the tobacco industry on the brains of children,” said Matt Meyers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “It raises fundamental questions about the integrity, honesty and openness of research anywhere at the University of California.”

“I have no idea why Philip Morris decides to fund this antismoking research, but they do,” replied Roberto Peccei, vice chancellor of research at UCLA. “As long as we do not feel that we are interfered with and that the research is done with the highest intentions, what’s in the mind of the funder is irrelevant.”

The tobacco giant’s own anti-smoking campaigns have been proven largely ineffective and the company still profits from teenage smoking.  “Philip Morris earns more revenue from cigarettes smoked by American kids than all other tobacco companies combined and its youth-generated revenue actually increased from 1997 to 2002,” according to Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids.  Although it is interesting the current study was also funded by Philip Morris, it should not detract from the results.  Nicotine is a powerful drug on teenage brains, which already (by hormonal nature) have trouble making rational decisions.



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