Your Brain On Cigarettes

Perhaps some of you (non-smokers?) remember the last claims of benefit from cigarettes – that they make you sharper. Nicotine was supposed to somehow improve alertness and mental function (separate, that is, from the improvement any addict feels when withdrawal symptoms are relieved). That last mighty claim of benefit just bit the dust. Well-designed large-scale, prospective research from England, looking at civil servants, shows that cigarettes have impressively bad effects on mental function, as early as middle age. What is “middle age”? Researchers enrolled “10,308 London-based civil servants (6895 men and 3413 women) aged 35 to 55 years at baseline (phase 1) from 1985 to 1988. Cognition was assessed at phase 5, when participants were aged 45 to 68 years (mean age, 55.5 years) and 5 years later, at phase 7, when participants were aged 50 to 74 years (mean age, 61 years).” I’m sorry, but when it comes to early dementia and loss of brain function, those ages are young in anybody’s book (except perhaps a fingernail-chewing, sullen teen who thinks 31 is ickily old). The next time you hear someone yell, “hey, can anyone remember where I left my cigarettes?” that question may take on a more chilling meaning than it did before. Here’s my Doc Gurley subliminal chant of good health for you: Time to quit, time to quit, time to quit...

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