Study shows smoking causes decrease in mental cognition

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Coinciding with the New College Student Alliance’s (NCSA) decision to discourage smoking at Towne Meetings, The Archives Of General Psychiatry has recently released new evidence stating that smoking causes accelerated mental decline in the cognitive processing of men. This contradicts evidence of a previous study in the 1990s that insisted smoking could actually improve cognitive processing.

“I personally haven’t read the stud[ies], but it would make sense,”Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC) program director Anne Fisher said. “[The smoker] would be inhaling more smoke and not enough oxygen, which might make them hypoxic.”

According to the Huffington Post, who was one of the first publications to draw attention to the new finding, “The mental function of the average 50-year-old male smoker can be expected to decline as quickly as that of a 60-year-old who has never smoked, the researchers estimate, even after factors such as educational level and overall health are taken into account.” The study emphasized that even social smoking could induce these effects which include the loss of brain cells and an increased chance of dementia later in life.

The study directly correlates with another finding that The National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) published in 2002. This experiment allowed rats to absorb nicotine for an hour a day for 42 days, resulting in a “50 percent higher loss in the production of new brain cells than the non-nicotine group, as well as a significantly higher rate of brain cell death.” A fall in the production of the protein PSA-NCAM, which is essential to the function of the nervous system, was also noted. The study, originally published in The Journal of Neuroscience, stated, “These results raise an important additional concern for the health consequences of nicotine abuse and open new insight on the possible neural mechanisms of tobacco addiction.”

When asked if the CWC sees a lot of health concerns raised by students due to smoking, Fisher replied that they did not. She also that added the reason why smokers might seem more prevalent on the New College campus than on others might simply be because of the small population.

If Novocollegeans were presented with the studies, first-year Sofia Allison doesn’t believe that there would be any sort of decline in smoking on campus.

“Smokers don’t care, even if you do present them with solid science,” Allison said. “It’s just that my dad smokes and he knows full well [the consequences] and he isn’t going to stop. [Smoking] is not going to destroy your entire frontal lobe.”

At the Towne Meeting that took place on Feb. 15, the NCSA Clean Air Act was passed. The act prohibits smoking at Towne Meetings and “NCSA events in general,” except in designated smoking areas, off to the side and not downwind of Novocollegeans attending the meeting. Students are already prohibited from smoking near the CWC and near the Fitness Center.

“Holly McCormick came to the meeting with a motion asking the student body not to smoke at Towne Meetings because of the effects of secondhand smoke and students with asthmatic problems,” second-year and NCSA president Michael Long said. “It ended with passing a resolution asking smokers to step off to the side. I think it’s a good idea. I don’t think we need to put it in the constitution, but we need to be respectful. I think it reaffirms that ‘don’t be that asshole’ policy.”

The CWC offers students assistance with quitting smoking in part by referring them to the American Lung Association, where they offer free programs.

“I quit smoking cold turkey,” first-year Nicole Ouelette said. “[I quit] mainly for financial reasons. I was spending quite a bit of money on cigarettes weekly … [smoking] was kind of a stress reliever for me and it’s kind of a social thing– like when you see someone smoking, it’s a thing.”

Ouelette said that this was her second time quitting cigarettes and the idea of saving money alone served as her incentive. When asked if she felt any decline in her cognitive processing, Ouelette replied, “I don’t feel like I’m losing brain cells, you can’t physically feel it. I mean, I’ve probably lost a lot of brain cells by now, but the brain can’t feel anything, so I wouldn’t know.”

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