More than 4.5 million teenagers smoke cigarettes in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Leslie Jacobsen, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, and her research team tested working memory. This form of memory is used when keeping information in mind and manipulating it. They also evaluated verbal learning and memory, attention, mood, symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and tobacco cravings in 41 adolescent daily smokers and 32 nonsmokers. The groups were similar in age, gender and education.
"Adolescent smokers were found to have impairments in accuracy of working memory performance," Jacobsen said. Other studies show adult non-smokers and smokers have comparable focused, sustained and selective attention, and improved working memory, suggesting enhancement of performance by nicotine.
Male adolescents as a group begin smoking at an earlier age than female smokers and were significantly more impaired during tests of selective and divided attention, she said. All of the adolescent smokers also showed further disruption of working memory when they stopped smoking.
"These findings underscore the importance of efforts aimed at preventing smoking initiation in adolescents. They also show adolescents who are trying to quit smoking may need additional educational support," Jacobsen said.