Men Who Smoke Are Not So Smart

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Young men who smoke may think they look “cool” or macho, but they are not so smart. A new study from American Friends Tel Aviv University finds that young men who smoke are more likely to have a lower IQ than their peers who do not smoke. This finding remained the same regardless of the socioeconomic background of the smokers.

Although the percentage of people who smoke has been declining in recent years, the numbers are still high and disturbing, especially given the fact that smoking is associated with high death and morbidity rates. In the United States, 23.1 percent of adult men smoke, 21.3 percent of high school males are smokers, and 6.3 percent of boys in middle school smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking is associated with approximately 443,000 deaths per year in the United States, representing 20 percent of all deaths in the country.

The new study was headed by Mark Weiser, professor of psychiatry at Tel Aviv University, who along with his team evaluated more than 20,000 men ages 18 to 21 years before, during, and after they served time in the military. Twenty-eight percent of the men had smoked one or more cigarettes per day, 3 percent said they were former smokers, and 68 percent said they had never smoked.

When the IQs of the men were checked, the researchers found that the average score for nonsmokers was about 101, compared with a score of about 94 in smokers. Young men who smoked more than a pack a day had an average score of 90. The range of IQs in healthy young men who have no mental disorders is between 84 and 116.

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Of special interest was the case of twin brothers, one of whom smoked. The twin who did not smoke had a higher IQ than his brother who did.

The researchers also looked at the possible impact of socioeconomic status on smoking, as “we’ve generally thought that smokers are most likely the kind of people to have grown up in difficult neighborhoods, or who’ve been given less education at good schools,” noted Weiser. However, their study included men from a wide range of backgrounds, and so they ruled out socioeconomics as a major factor.

Weiser noted that their results illustrate a general trend, that individuals who have lower average IQs tend to have poorer decision-making skills overall when it comes to health issues. This factor extends beyond making decisions about smoking, according to Weiser. “These same people are more likely to have obesity, nutrition and narcotics issues,” he said. He hopes the study’s findings are helpful to parents and health professionals who can help young people at risk for addictive and other unhealthy behaviors.

This study indicates that men who smoke do not appear to be as smart as their nonsmoking counterparts. It remains to be determined whether this same finding can be extrapolated to women. But the bottom line is that given the known health impact of smoking, the habit is not smart for anyone, men or women, of any age.

SOURCES:
American Friends Tel Aviv University, news release April 1, 2010
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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