National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
This report discusses the harmful effects of tobacco use, risks associated with pregnancy and adolescents, as well as best practices for the prevention and treatment of tobacco addiction.
This section provides examples of recent scientific advances from NIH-sponsored research, and is not intended to be a comprehensive list.
People with a genetic predisposition for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have significantly increased odds of developing the blinding eye disorder if they had a history of heavy smoking and consistently did not exercise or eat enough fruits and vegetables, according to an observational study funded by the NEI. Kristin J. Meyers, Ph.D., and her team evaluated the diet and exercise patterns of 1663 women who had participated in the Carotenoids in Age-Related Eye Disease Study. They also evaluated whether the women smoked and whether they carried known genetic risk factors for AMD. Those who carried two high-risk genetic alleles, smoked a pack or more a day for at least seven years, and were in the highest-risk diet and exercise categories were more than four times more likely to have AMD compared to those who did not have genetic risk factors and who ate a healthy diet and got at least 10 hours/week of light exercise or at least 8 hours of moderate activity. In addition to lifestyle contributions, vitamin D levels may synergize with genetic factors, according to the findings of another study by the same team. "The findings of both studies support the notion of biologic synergy—that one's genes, lifestyle factors, and nutrition all come together in a synergistic way to mediate inflammation, which is a key mechanism involved in AMD," said Julie Mares, Ph.D., a co-lead of both studies.
Students who report using electronic cigarettes by the time they start high school are more likely to report later use of traditional tobacco products, according to a NIDA/NCI-funded study. A team led by Dr. Adam M. Leventhal at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine examined data from a survey of high school students from 10 diverse public high schools in Los Angeles. At the beginning of the study, 222 students reported that they had tried e-cigarettes but no smokable tobacco products. During the first 6 months, 31% of those who had used e-cigarettes started smoking tobacco, compared to 8% of those who had never used e-cigarettes. Over the following 6 months, 25% of e-cigarette users reported that they had smoked tobacco in the past 6 months, compared to 9% of those who hadn’t used e-cigarettes. "While we cannot conclude that e-cigarette use directly leads to smoking, this research raises concerns that recent increases in youth e-cigarette use could ultimately perpetuate the epidemic of smoking-related illness," said Leventhal.
A new NIDA-funded study shows that being around someone who is using an e-cigarette (vaping) can trigger a desire for tobacco cigarettes in young adults who regularly smoke. This passive exposure to e-cigarette use also increased the desire for an e-cigarette. These results highlight the need for more research into the effects of exposure to e-cigarettes in order to help prevent smoking in young adults.
New research demonstrates that mothers who choose to smoke during pregnancy may actually alter their offspring's epigenetic DNA profile. While the sequence of DNA is inherited from the parents, its structure can be fine-tuned in the offspring, causing lasting changes in gene expression. One such non-inherited, or epigenetic, modification is DNA methylation, in which chemical tags are added to the DNA. In one of the largest studies of its kind to date, researchers from NIEHS and Norway have identified the regions of the genome that are specifically methylated in children from mothers who smoked during pregnancy, compared with children of nonsmokers. Investigators catalogued DNA methylation marks in blood collected from 889 newborns, with 287 newborns from mothers with self-reported smoking during the first trimester, and discovered altered methylation patterns in or near 110 genes. Strikingly, some of these genes are related to the ability to quit smoking, nicotine addiction, and fetal development. This work adds to the growing body of evidence that maternal exposure and behavior can modify DNA during fetal development.