Secondhand Smoke Exposure Can Deliver Nicotine to Brains of Non-Smokers

Even if you’re not a smoker, you still may be getting a dose of nicotine to the brain if you’re around someone who is, a new study says. Researchers observed that exposure to secondhand smoke has a direct, measurable impact on the brain – and the effect is similar to what happens in the brain of the person who is smoking. Not only that, the exposure to secondhand smoke can actually evoke cravings for cigarettes. The study used PET scans to demonstrate that one hour of secondhand smoke exposure in an enclosed space can result in enough nicotine reaching the brain to bind receptors that are normally targeted by direct exposure to tobacco smoke. “These results show that even limited secondhand smoke exposure delivers enough nicotine to the brain to alter its function,” said Nora Volkow, M.D., the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Chronic or severe exposure could result in even higher brain nicotine levels, which may explain why secondhand smoke exposure increases vulnerability to nicotine addiction.” Previous research has shown that secondhand smoke increases the likelihood that children will pick up smoking and makes it more difficult for adult smokers to quit.  These findings suggest that secondhand smoke can act on the brain to promote smoking behavior. “This study gives concrete evidence to support policies that ban smoking in public places, particularly enclosed spaces and around children,” said Arthur Brody, M.D., of the UCLA Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences and study co-author. The study was published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.