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Smoking Cessation Health Center

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Smoking May Impair Teens' Attention

Teen Smokers in Study Scored Worse Than Nonsmokers on Attention Test
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 21, 2007 -- Teens may have more trouble paying attention if they smoke, especially if their mothers smoked cigarettes during pregnancy.

That news comes from researchers including Leslie Jacobsen, MD, of the departments of psychiatry and pediatrics at Yale University's medical school.

Exposure to tobacco smoke before birth or during the teen years may interfere with the development of attention skills, Jacobsen and colleagues report.

That’s one more reason to prevent smoking, especially among women of childbearing age, and to help people quit smoking, the researchers note.

Their study looked at 181 teens. The researchers asked the teens' moms if they had smoked during pregnancy.

The researchers then split the teens into four groups:

  • 67 teen smokers whose mothers had smoked during pregnancy
  • 44 teen smokers whose mothers had not smoked during pregnancy
  • 25 nonsmoking teens whose mothers had smoked during pregnancy
  • 45 nonsmoking teens whose mothers had not smoked during pregnancy.

Attention Tests

The teens took a series of computerized attention tests.

In the tests, the teens saw a word on a computer screen or heard a recorded word played out loud.

They were told to focus on the word shown on the computer screen (visual attention test) or the word played out loud (auditory attention test).

The tests got progressively harder as the researchers added visual or auditory distractions.

For instance, they played a recording of a word during a visual attention test. The teens had to ignore such distractions and focus on the test.

Attention and Teen Smokers

Here are the results of the attention tests:

  • Best scores: Nonsmoking teens whose mothers had not smoked during pregnancy
  • Second-best scores: Teen smokers whose mothers had not smoked during pregnancy
  • Worst scores: Teen smokers whose mothers had smoked during pregnancy.

Smoking teenaged girls whose mothers had smoked during pregnancy scored worse than other girls on both the visual and auditory tests.

Smoking teenaged boys whose mothers had smoked during pregnancy scored worse than other boys on the auditory attention test, but not the visual one.

The findings held when the researchers considered that teen smokers were more likely to report depression and drug use.

The study appears in the advance online edition of Neuropsychopharmacology.

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