Tobacco: Tobacco and
the Developing Brain
It is well documented that tobacco companies historically targeted young people in their promotion efforts based off the simple fact that if young people turned eighteen without smoking, the odds were five to one that they never would. Nearly 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers first tried smoking by age 18.
Similar to alcohol, nicotine affects the adolescent brain differently than it affects an adult’s brain. Because the brain is under construction, it is more sensitive to the potent chemicals contained in tobacco products.
It turns out that nicotine effects teens in three key ways:
- Similar to drugs like cocaine or heroin, it increases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which artificially stimulates parts of the brain that control reward and pleasure
- It increases the number of nicotine receptors in the brain which results in more nicotine cravings (and more “down” feelings without nicotine)
- It affects other neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation
There is also emerging evidence that nicotine may interfere with cognitive development (the construction of thought processes, including remembering, problem solving, and decision-making) and executive functioning (a group of skills that allow youth to manage their thoughts, actions, and emotions).
There is emerging evidence that nicotine may interfere with cognitive development.