Smoking cigarettes may make teens more susceptible to
depression, alcohol abuse, and illegal drug use, a new report states.
Based on data from a government drug use survey, researchers concluded that
teens who smoke are nine times more likely to abuse alcohol and 13 times more
likely to abuse illegal drugs than teens who don't smoke.
The report "Tobacco: The Smoking Gun" was released today by the
Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA),
led by former U.S. Health, Education and Welfare commissioner Joseph A.
The report was funded by the anti-tobacco group Citizen's Commission to
Protect the Truth.
"The message is clear," Califano tells WebMD. "If your kid is
smoking, you better be alert to the much greater likelihood that he or she also
may be abusing alcohol or illegal drugs."
Teen Smokers at Risk
Despite decades of warnings about the dangers of smoking, every day an
estimated 4,000 teens in the United States light up a cigarette for the first
Califano says the report was issued to make parents, teachers, and
physicians aware that the dangers of teen smoking are immediate as well as
According to the CASA analysis, twice as many teen smokers as nonsmokers
suffer symptoms of depression.
Smoking at a young age has also been linked to panic attacks and general
anxiety disorders in some studies, the report notes.
While the research falls short of proving that smoking is a cause of
depression and other mental illness, Califano says the evidence is pointing in
"Smoking is clearly linked to substance abuse and depression, and this
report shows that the statistical relationship is very powerful," he
Based on the government's 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the
CASA analysis shows that:
- Teenage smokers between the ages of 12 and 17 are five times more likely to
drink alcohol and nine times more likely to meet the medical criteria for
alcohol abuse or dependence as teens who don't smoke.
- Teens who smoke are 13 times more likely to use marijuana than nonsmoking
- Teens who smoke are more than twice as likely to have suffered from
symptoms of depression over the course of a year.
The earlier a child begins smoking, the greater the risk, Califano says.
Compared to children who never smoked, children who start smoking before age 13
are three times as likely to binge drink, 15 times as likely to use marijuana,
and seven times more likely to use other illegal drugs such as heroin or
Teens, Smoking, and Depression
Califano says there is growing evidence from animal and brain imaging
studies that the nicotine has a more profound effect on young brains than on
the brains of adults, increasing their vulnerability to cigarettes and possibly
other addictive substances.
Specifically, adolescents may exhibit more nicotine-driven changes in brain
chemistry associated with addiction. Animal studies suggest that teens may
become nicotine dependent more quickly than adults.
While most of the research has involved animals, at least one study of
teenagers suggests that teen smoking leads to depression, and not the other way
The report, released in October 2000, showed a link between smoking and
depression, but it seemed to contradict the idea that teens smoke because they
Rather, the study showed that current cigarette use was a strong predictor
of developing serious symptoms of depression within a year.
Elizabeth Goodman, MD, who led the study team, says the message that smoking
has an immediate, detrimental effect on health is a very powerful one for young
people to hear.
"When you tell teens that smoking will lead to lung cancer in 50 years
or even 30 years, they don't hear it,"she tells WebMD. "But telling
them that when they smoke it can make them feel bad is a message they
The CASA report calls for greater restrictions on the advertising and
marketing of all types of tobacco products.
Califano tells WebMD that tobacco companies have found ways around existing
restrictions and are still actively marketing their products to children.
He cites R.J. Reynolds' introduction of a line of flavored cigarettes under
the Camel brand -- such as the citrus flavored "Twista Lime" and the
pineapple and coconut-flavored "Kauai Kolada" -- as among the most
egregious examples of this.
Following complaints from federal lawmakers and attorneys general from no
fewer than 40 states, R.J. Reynolds agreed to stop selling most of its flavored
cigarettes in October 2006.
"No matter how you cut it, selling candy-flavored cigarettes is
targeting children," Califano says. "Things really haven't changed all
that much since the days of 'Joe Camel.'"
By Salynn Boyles
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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