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April 24, 1996

Clues Found to Tobacco Addiction

JAMA. 1996;275(16):1217-1218. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530400005001

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NEW RESEARCH on the effects of tobacco smoke on brain chemistry is providing provocative clues about why smoking is so addictive.

Besides suggesting new strategies for helping people quit, the findings also may help explain some puzzling epidemiologic characteristics of cigarette smoking turned up by previous studies, such as the strong association found between smoking and depression and the curious observation that smokers have only half the risk of nonsmokers of developing Parkinson disease.

For years, nicotine has been seen as the key player in getting smokers hooked on tobacco, and in 1988, the US Surgeon General concluded that nicotine is an addictive drug. But now investigators have turned up startling evidence that another constituent of tobacco smoke may also encourage tobacco dependence through its effects on an enzyme that plays an important role in the brain's system for rewarding and reinforcing behaviors—a system that experts have linked with addiction.