Teenagers have long been regarded as the age group most vulnerable to the addictive lure of cigarettes, and a new report compiling five years of studies from a UC Irvine tobacco research program provides details why this is very likely true.
The report, “Closing the Gap on Youth Tobacco Use,” determines that adolescents are more susceptible than adults to the rewarding effects of smoking, starting with their first exposure to nicotine. Issued by the UC Irvine Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center, the report includes findings from the research center, which conducted animal, human and policy studies to identify specific factors that promote tobacco use and addiction in adolescents. Findings from Brown University, as well as the universities of Pennsylvania, Southern California, and Wisconsin are also featured in the report.
“The knowledge gained from working together will help us increase our understanding of how young people can become vulnerable to tobacco and the factors that contribute to tobacco dependence,” said Frances Leslie, director of the UCI research center and a professor of pharmacology. “We hope that ultimately, our shared research will be applied to tobacco prevention efforts.”
The report highlights major research findings, including:
- Age makes a difference. Adolescents are more receptive to the rewarding effects of nicotine than adults, making cigarette addiction more likely to occur during adolescence.
- Teens may not feel the negative effects of nicotine as strongly.
- Another chemical in cigarette smoke works with nicotine to produce more rewarding effects in young people than nicotine alone can do. Together, these chemicals can alter the moods, behaviors and thought processes of teens.
- Nicotine causes changes in the adolescent brains of rats after just one exposure.
- Teens with ADHD may turn to smoking as a form of self-medication.
- Programs designed to prevent teen smoking have the greatest positive economic impact of all smoking-cessation efforts.
- People with negative moods or naturally aggressive personalities are more likely to become addicted to nicotine. These “born to smoke” patterns appear in teens and adults.
Tobacco use is one of the nation’s leading health problems, killing more than 430,000 Americans and costing more than $38 billion in taxpayer dollars each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80 percent of tobacco users started at teens. During these adolescent years, major changes in the brain occur, including those involved with regulating the effects of drugs and other stimuli.
The Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center at UCI is one of seven centers in the United States established to study the factors involved with one of the nation’s health crises: teen smoking. Part of its mission is to understand how nicotine, the addictive element of tobacco, impacts this brain maturation and leads to lifelong addiction. The other centers are located at the University of Pennsylvania/Georgetown University, University of Wisconsin, Brown University, University of Minnesota, Yale University and the University of Southern California. The National Cancer Institute and the National Institute on Drug Abuse in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation contributed nearly $85 million in funding support.
About the University of California, Irvine: The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked public university dedicated to research, scholarship and community. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with approximately 24,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,300 faculty members. The third-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3 billion.