Almost everybody has some sort of understanding about the deleterious effects of smoking. Public health professionals continue running campaigns to reduce smoking rates, and lobbying for laws that restrict cigarette smoking, particularly among the young. The battle seems to be an uphill one. In the United States young people smoke more than any other demographic and we know what the repercussions are, in the long run. Apart from ravaging the physical the body, smoking has psychological effects as well although these are rarely addressed. Once smoking has been established in an individual they tend to feel that it is necessary for them to continue smoking in order to feel ‘normal’ again. This leads to psychological dependence. The nicotine in the tobacco is not only addictive but it is also a psychomotor stimulant. Some smokers claim that they gain emotional benefits from smoking, which reinforces the habit.
Research findings have in the past revealed brain differences between adults who smoke and their nonsmoking counterparts (Engelking, 2014). However, very little research has been conducted to assess the effect of cigarette smoking on the developing brains of young people. A recent study led by Edythe London focused on the youngest demographic of smokers (adolescents). In this study, structural MRI was used to compare the brains of 18 young smokers with 24 young nonsmokers. The findings indicated that the insula which is a part of the cerebral cortex tended to be thinner in young people who smoked in comparison to that of their counterparts who did not smoke. These results may not necessarily demonstrate causation but they certainly affirm the adverse effects of cigarette smoking on the brain of young smokers. It is also possible that protracted smoking could lead to more extensive structural alterations of the brain. The insula plays a significant role in autonomic control; in controlling the brain’s distress response, and a thin insula might not perform this function very well. Public health professionals and other health professionals are likely to incorporate these results in their educational campaigns against smoking.
I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well (Psalm 139:14, KJV).
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Carl Engelking. 2014. Smoking Could Alter Teens’ Brain Structure. Discover Magazine