Tobacco: The Smoking Gun | Center on Addiction

Tobacco: The Smoking Gun

Tobacco: The Smoking Gun

Published: October 2007

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Nicotine/tobacco addiction is a known public health threat. Less well known, however, is that tobacco use at a young age can set children and adolescents down a path of lifelong nicotine addiction, chronic illness and premature death.


CASAColumbia’s work for this white paper involved:

  • An extensive review of publications reporting cigarette and other tobacco product addiction statistics, as well as other research on the damaging effects of nicotine on the adolescent brain
  • Analyses of the statistical connection between early tobacco use and increased risk of alcohol and other drug use and dependence


This report found that the nicotine in tobacco products poses a significant danger of causing structural and chemical changes in developing brains that can make teens more vulnerable to alcohol and other drug addiction, as well as to mental illness. Teens who reported smoking were 9 times likelier to have met the clinical criteria for past-year alcohol abuse or dependence and 13 times likelier to have met the clinical criteria for illegal drug abuse and dependence than teens who didn’t smoke.

Compared to 12-to-17-year-olds who didn’t smoke, those who did were more than 5 times likelier to drink and 13 times likelier to use marijuana. Compared to those who have never smoked, those who began smoking at age 12 or younger were:

  • More than 3 times likelier to binge drink
  • Nearly 15 times likelier to have smoked marijuana
  • Nearly 7 times likelier to have used other illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine

The report also found that among teens ages 12 to 17, twice as many smokers as nonsmokers suffered from symptoms of depression in the past year. Teens who reported early initiation of smoking were more likely to have experienced serious feelings of hopelessness, depression and worthlessness in the past year.

The research presented in this white paper adds to the long-established consequences of tobacco use and puts to rest any question about the profound harm associated with early exposure to nicotine. The powerful connection between early initiation of smoking and heightened risk for alcohol and illegal drug use and abuse and certain mental disorders, as well as the substantial social and economic burden associated with each of these conditions, highlights the tremendous public health problem of youth tobacco use and the urgent need to prevent and reduce it.


Based on the findings of the white paper, recommendations include:

  • Sharply restricting all tobacco advertising, marketing and promotion
  • Stepping up evidence-based prevention and cessation efforts, including counteradvertising programs
  • Giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) comprehensive authority to regulate tobacco
  • Mandating evidence-based tobacco cessation in substance abuse treatment and mental health care settings
  • Enforcing laws restricting sale of tobacco to minors and enacting indoor and outdoor clean air laws to limit children’s exposure to secondhand smoke

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