Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Adolescent but not adult nicotine use affects cognitive performance

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-12-20

While nicotine and nicotinamide (a B group vitamin) help resist the development and/or progression of senile dementia, a new study in Nature Neuropsychopharmacology demonstrates that (at least in rats) adolescent use of nicotine causes cognitive impairment as an adult.

This suggests to me that the legal age for use of tobacco products should be increased… perhaps to 21.

"Long-Lasting Cognitive Deficits Resulting from Adolescent Nicotine Exposure in Rats" Neuropsychopharmacology (2009) 34, 299–306; doi:10.1038/npp.2008.96, (published online 2008-06-25) is freely available (at least for the moment) as html and pdf.

From the abstract:

  • Our data show that adolescent, but not postadolescent, nicotine exposure affects cognitive performance in adulthood and results in diminished attentional performance and increments in impulsive action, while leaving impulsive choice intact.
  • data suggest that adolescence is a time window during which the brain is vulnerable to long-lasting cognitive disturbances resulting from nicotine exposure.

You can get an index (including thumbnails and captions) of pretty graphs here.

With some indications that the brain doesn’t mature (at least as far as risk assessment) until around 25 years old, considering raising the age for legal supply of tobacco products to the early 20’s might be justifiable.  Legally, of course, this is tricky.

And what does a doctor or chemist do when someone aged between 15 and 18 asks for a supply of nicotine patches?  My guess is that for those under 20, nicotine products like patches and chewing gum should require a prescription.


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