Not too long ago, a friend of mine with teenaged daughters told me one of them started smoking cigarettes.  As a smoker herself, she was not as upset by this as I would have thought.  “It’s legal and it’s not drugs at least.  She could be doing so much worse things.  She gets good grades,” the friend said to me.  I wasn’t so convinced.  There always seemed to be an obvious correlation, at least when I was in high school in the 1980s, between teens who were “smoking in the boys’ room” and teens who were involved with drugs.  I decided to investigate this link with hardcore research so I could get the concrete info and then hopefully convince my friend to help her daughter get off cigarettes before it escalated.

    My first search on the internet lead me directly to a study by the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.  In 2000, they re-analyzed data from an earlier study on drug abuse that contained other data such as cigarette use by the participants. This is what they found:

    ” Results showed that those who had smoked cigarettes were more likely to use illegal drugs. For all age groups combined, the 65.8 percent of participants who had ever smoked were: seven times more likely to have tried marijuana; seven times more likely to have tried cocaine; 14 times more likely to have tried crack; and 16 times more likely to have tried heroin. The results were even more startling when the statistical evidence was sub-divided by age groups. Associations between smoking and illegal drug use were significantly stronger for young people. For instance, people ages 12 to 15 who smoked cigarettes were 44 times more likely to use crack, compared with only a twofold risk in those 50 or older” (Johns Hopkins School of Public Health News Center website).     

     Further driving home the point, a particular researcher was quoted in summary saying, “Results of this study deliver a strong cautionary message that those who smoked cigarettes before the age of 15 were up to 80 times more likely to use illegal drugs than those who did not,” ( lead author Shenghan Lai, MD, MPH, associate research professor, Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health).

    This was worse than I thought.  Reading onward, I found even more startling data.  All along, I had been thinking teen cigarette smokers would be more likely to move first to marijuana, considering the similarity in format.  But I was wrong. “Cocaine, in either powder or crack form, was the drug most likely to be used among young cigarette smokers. Because the associations decrease with age, the authors said there is an implication that cigarette smoking is a better predictor for illegal drug use in young people. With the numbers of high school-aged smokers increasing over the past decade, the results of the present analysis in fact predict an increase in illegal drug use over the next few decades” (Johns Hopkins School of Public Health News Center website).  

     It did seem curious, though, as to why this would be.  Was it simply that once teenagers engaged in one rebellious behavior, others would soon follow?  Were they hanging around older people who could buy the cigarettes for them and receiving tolosewightt.com drugs from them, too?  The National Institute on Drug Abuse cited on the Texas Statewide Tobacco Education and Prevention website said, “The experience of smoking can teach youngsters to use a psychoactive drug to influence mood and alertness, as nicotine does, and then reinforce that behavior.  Smoking cigarettes prepares young people for the relevant mode of ingestion for one of the next drugs in the sequence – namely marijuana.  Drawing a foreign substance into the lungs is not a normal behavior for humans or other animals – it is a behavior which has to be learned and rewarded enough to overcome the aversive experiences which usually result.”   

      The Texas website also stated that  “Generally smoking cigarettes is the first peer-shared drug experience, or first illicit drug experience, similar to using Marijuana as it is usually hidden and outside most family and general societal acceptance standards. Smoking cigarettes can facilitate later drug use by teaching how to deeply inhale and hold smoke in the lungs.  As a smoked drug, cigarettes initiate teens into the sensation of inhaling a drug and desensitize them to the feeling of smoke entering their lungs – A skill used for smoking marijuana, hashish, or free-basing crack cocaine (Texas Statewide Tobacco Education and Prevention website).

     Armed with some this information, I can help my friend to help her daughter before she becomes too comfortable with the smoking experience.    

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