notobacco

Closing The Gateway To Alcohol And Drug Use

In State News on April 21, 2010 at 11:41 am

Smoking is not just a bad habit that can lead to premature death, but it also can lead to an increased use of certain drugs. An Indiana University study has found that increased smoking is strongly associated with increased use of alcohol, smokeless tobacco and other illicit drugs.

“The empirical data provides evidence that tobacco still serves as a gateway drug. Furthermore, there is a dose response relationship with regard to monthly use of cigarettes and other substances across all grades surveyed,” said Mohammad Torabi, Chancellor’s Professor in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and study co-author. “Tobacco is everyone’s common enemy.”

The study, published in the American Journal of Health Education, reiterates the findings of Torabi’s 1993 study that tobacco is a significant gateway drug.

“In our current study, increased smoking was strongly associated with increased use of alcohol, smokeless tobacco, and five other drugs. This is a significant public health problem,” Torabi said. “Probably one way to prevent other drug use is concentrating on tobacco prevention and cessation. That is not to say there is cause and effect relationship between tobacco use and other drugs.”

Every year tobacco is responsible for nearly 450,000 deaths in the United States. Its use affects the health and well-being of smokers and nonsmokers alike and it contributes significantly to skyrocketing health care costs. According to the study, tobacco has not only impacted the health but also the wealth of every member of our society.

“As is known, a great majority of smokers start prior to the age of 25. That is why most of the marketing of tobacco is targeted toward younger people. If they are ‘hooked’ to this deadly product, they are almost always ‘hooked’ for life,” Torabi said.

The younger a person begins smoking, the greater the likelihood of addiction and disease. This study reveals that Indiana eighth graders used cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana at a much higher rate than the national average. Similar results were also found in other grade levels. According to the study, “the heavier the level of smoking, the greater the predicted probability of alcohol use.”

Parents constitute the most important ingredient in preventing youth tobacco use. The study makes the following recommendations:

  • School involvement. Schools need to employ smoking bans, to adopt evidence-based tobacco prevention curricula and to offer and promote smoking cessation programs.
  • Community involvement. Evidence-based community strategies include increasing taxes on cigarettes, interventions to reduce youth access to tobacco in combination with mobilization efforts, and counter-marketing campaigns. Communities as well as schools should increase stigmatization of smoking.
  • Adult involvement. Every parent, teacher and person who works with youth should recognize the powerful predictive relationship between cigarette smoking and the use of alcohol and other drugs and be able to have an open dialogue with the said youth.

“Obviously, this study demonstrated that tobacco use is one of the most critical public health problems,” Torabi said. “If we make an investment in prevention and cessation, it not only saves premature death and suffering, but it saves taxpayers’ resources in the long term and will reduce our skyrocketing health care costs.”

Torabi, chair of the School of HPER’s Department of Applied Health Science, can be reached at 812-855-4808 or torabi@indiana.edu.

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