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Black, White Teens Show Differences in Nicotine Metabolism

Armen Hareyan's picture

Teen Smoking

New research by scientists with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health, suggests that some of the racial and ethnic differences underlying how adults' bodies metabolize nicotine also are at work during adolescence. The findings have implications for the way teens of different racial and ethnic backgrounds are provided smoking cessation treatments. The study is published in the January 2006 issue of Ethnicity and Disease.

"Previous research in adults showed that black smokers take in 30 percent more nicotine per cigarette and take longer to rid their bodies of the drug, compared to white smokers," says NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. "The current findings, among the first on adolescent nicotine metabolism, reveal that these differences are in effect during the teen years, as well."

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"Because nicotine plays an active role in smoking reinforcement, these variations may influence early onset addiction to tobacco," Dr. Volkow adds. "Thus, these findings may constitute a strong warning to black youth to keep from smoking in the first place. They also may explain why certain smoking cessation therapies work better in some populations than in others, and therefore, which treatments should be offered to which teens."

A team of scientists led by Dr. Eric T. Moolchan, Director of NIDA's Teen Tobacco Addiction Research Clinic in Baltimore, Maryland, recruited 61 white and 30 black adolescent smokers to participate in the study.

The scientists measured the ratio of one nicotine breakdown product to another to assess the rates at which the teens' bodies disposed of the drug. The ratio of the two metabolites was lower among black youth, indicating that nicotine/cotinine metabolism was occurring more slowly in this group.

They also measured the ratio of one nicotine breakdown product (cotinine) to the number of cigarettes smoked per day (CPD). Although black youth smoked significantly fewer cigarettes per day