Social Smoking Is No Better for Your Brain

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Even social smokers are out of excuses. A recent study finds that it doesn’t matter whether you smoke every day or only on the weekends — at least when it comes to damaging your memory.

For the study, researchers from Northumbria University recruited 84 students. A third of students were “social smokers,” who smoked about 20 cigarettes once or twice a week, usually on weekends. Another third were regular smokers, who smoked 10 to 15 cigarettes daily, and the last group was never smokers.

The participants were given a video-based memory test in which they watched a short clip of a busy shopping area and were asked to remember a series of predetermined actions at specific locations shown during the clip. For example, they were asked to remember to text a friend when passing a certain store or to exchange a jumper they had previously purchased.

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Based on the results, the researchers found that both groups of smokers performed significantly worse on the memory tasks than the non-smokers and there was no performance difference between the two smoking groups.

“Smoking-related memory decline in general has been linked with increases in accelerated cerebral degeneration such as brain shrinkage,” Dr. Tom Heffernan, senior lecturer in psychology at Northumbria University, said in a statement. “This new research suggests that restricting smoking to weekends makes no difference — smoking damages your memory.”

The researchers acknowledge that the sample of students used in the study may not be a representative of smokers in general, but previous research has shown links between smoking and memory loss in other age groups.

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In February, a study from the University College London found that smoking was associated with faster cognitive decline in middle-aged men. Healthland’s Alice Park reported:

“The [study] found that men who smoked showed faster decline than nonsmoking men over 10 years. The size of the effect associated with smoking was similar to that of 10 years of aging.”

Another danger of occasional smoking, research suggest, is that social smokers are less likely to think about quitting since they don’t consider themselves “real smokers.” They don’t think they have a problem, so they’re not motivated to stop. But passing up even the occasional cigarette has health benefits — not only for your heart and lungs, but as recent research suggests, also for your brain too.

The study was published this month in the journal Open Addiction.

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