It is the first time that the effect of nicotine on adolescent brains has been researched and the results show smoking can ‘lead to cognitive impairments in later life’.
This could mean that people who start smoking at a young age could have
‘lasting attentional disturbances’, the researchers said.
The team carried out their experiments on young rats but say the effect can be translated to humans because of the similarities between the rat and human brains.
The rats which had been given nicotine while adolescents performed between 5% and 10% worse than a control group in tests at a later age. But rats given nicotine as adults showed no difference in performance.
‘Translating this to the human situation, we are talking about youngsters who start smoking between the ages of 12 and 16,’ researcher Sabine Spijker told the Volkskrant.
‘They will become fine workers when they get older, but as soon as things get difficult or too much is asked of them, they drop out more quickly than others. Then they cannot stay focused.’
Nicotine also makes young rats more impulsive.