Tag Archives: smoking

Study: Alzheimer’s linked to heavy smoking in middle age

Heavy smoking in middle age more than doubles the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia later in life, according to one of the first long-term studies to examine the issue and reported in the Chicago Tribune.

Smoking has a clear effect on the heart and lungs, but whether it also damages the brain has been controversial. The study, published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, overcomes some of the obstacles that have made it difficult to assess such a link. For example, some previous research suggesting that smoking doesn’t cause dementia mostly examined elderly people only for a short period of time.

To get a more complete look, researchers in Finland, Sweden and the Oakland-based research division of the health plan Kaiser Permanente followed 21,123 middle-aged Kaiser members who participated in a survey between 1978 and 1985, and then studied the participants for an average of 23 years.

After controlling for other factors that can contribute to dementia — such as education level, race, age, diabetes, heart disease and substance abuse — the study found a significant link with heavy smoking in middle age.

Compared to nonsmokers, people who smoked two packs a day or more had a 114 percent increased risk of dementia (more than double) while people who smoked one to two packs a day had a 44 percent increased risk. Those who smoked half to one pack a day had a 37 percent increased risk.

Middle-aged people who described themselves as former smokers did not appear to have an increased risk of later dementia.

One way that smoking might increase the risk of dementia would be via the narrowing of blood vessels in the brain, a process that leads to the well-established increased risk of stroke, said Rachel A. Whitmer, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research and the principal investigator in the study.

However, even people who smoked heavily in midlife and did not have any subsequent strokes were at higher risk for dementia, Whitmer said.

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Does smoking in a movie deserve an ‘R’ rating?

If a character drops too many f-bombs in a movie, the film is likely to get bumped up to an “R” from a “PG-13” rating. Many public-health groups would like to give similar treatment to onscreen smoking, saying it boosts the probability kids will take up the habit, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

That case was made this week in a paper published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The study actually showed that number of tobacco-use “incidents” (almost all of which involved smoking) in top-grossing movies declined steadily between 2005 and 2009 after zig-zagging in previous years.

Still, the researchers, led by Stanton Glantz, a UCSF professor of medicine who directs the Smoke Free Movies Project, calculated there were still 1,935 movie tobacco incidents in 2009. The most famous onscreen user that year was Sigourney Weaver’s character, environmental scientist Grace Augustine, in the superduperblockbuster “Avatar.”

Glantz and others leapt on her cigarette habit after the movie came out, claiming it imbued the movie with a pro-smoking message. Cameron responded to the criticism in a New York Times Arts Beat blog post, saying he used cigarettes to define Augustine’s initially “off-putting and even unpleasant” character.

Glantz and his co-authors write that cutting tobacco’s onscreen appearances even further “could lead to less initiation of smoking among adolescents,” citing previous epidemiological research, including one study (of which Glantz was an author) that found the more a young adults was exposed to onscreen smoking, the more likely he or she was to smoke.

The authors recommend the implementation of “effective methods to reduce the potential harmful influence” of tobacco use in films. An editorial note accompanying the paper cites four such methods:

• An “R” rating for movies that include smoking or other tobacco use.
• Requiring “strong anti-tobacco ads” before movies that include tobacco use.
• Not allowing tobacco products used in movies to show a visible brand.
• Requiring producers of movies that include tobacco use to certify that no consideration was paid to include the depiction.
 
“There’s a very strong scientific evidence base … that [seeing] smoking onscreen causes kids to smoke,” Glantz said in a telephone press conference about the study. If directors want their characters to smoke, they should have them do it in movies not marketed to kids, he said.