NICOTINE: THE GATEWAY DRUG
What is notable about tobacco use is that it consistently occurs early in the sequence of problem behaviors. When a young person starts to smoke or use tobacco, it is a signal, an alarm that he or she may get involved in other risky behaviors. This is one of the few early warning signs we have in public health. If we can prevent tobacco use in the first place, we might have a big impact on preventing or delaying a host of other destructive behaviors among our young people.
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 12 to 17 year olds who smoke cigarettes are:
- 14 times more likely to abuse alcohol,
- 100 times more likely to smoke marijuana, and
- 32 times more likely to use cocaine than their nonsmoking peers. (1.)
- Adolescents who smoke are more likely to be involved in risky behaviors than youth who have never smoked.
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that:
- 95% of high school seniors who smoke, tried illicit drugs, while only 27% of non-smokers tried illicit drugs;
- 94% of smoking seniors tried marijuana compared to 20% of non-smoking seniors;
- 49% of smoking seniors tried cocaine, while 5% of non-smoking seniors tried it;
- 18.4% of smoking seniors drank daily compared to 1.7% of non-smoking seniors; and
- 67.9% of smoking seniors did some heavy drinking, while only 17.2% of non-smoking seniors did some heavy drinking. (3.)
- Youth between the ages of 12 and 17 who had smoked in the past 30 days were 3 times more likely to have consumed alcohol, 8 times more likely to have smoked marijuana and 22 times more likely to have used cocaine than those who had not smoked cigarettes. (NIDA, National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 1985)
- Among 12 through 17 year old adolescents, who had never smoked, only 3 percent had binged (had five or more alcoholic drinks in a row) in the past 30 days. This compares with nearly 40 percent of daily smokers in this age group who had binged in the last 30 days. (NIDA, National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 1985)
- The amount of tobacco use is directly related to other drug use. Students whose low-level use of tobacco or alcohol increased to heavy-level use during follow-up interviews were more likely to begin using other substances or to increase their use if these substances than those who remained low-level users of tobacco or alcohol. (Bailey, 1992)
- Among young people 15 years of age, the initial use of cigarettes, alcohol or marijuana is the strongest predictor of later use of cocaine. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1998.)
When young people are able to use nicotine, they learn how to use a drug. Nicotine is a powerful psychoactive and highly addictive drug. Youth are the sole source of new customers for tobacco companies. Only 5% of their new customers are over the age of 21.
Young people learn the drug effects of tobacco: At first the effects are unpleasant and distasteful. Then these effects become recognizable and acceptable, until they are ritualistic and necessary. . .
Youth learn to recognize the "kick" from the first cigarette in the morning. They recognize the nervousness, anxiety, and tension of withdrawal and learn to end it with the nicotine use. With nicotine, youth learn about drug-taking behavior and addiction.
Smoking is a "gateway" to other drug dependencies. Youth who smoke heavily (one pack per day) are 3 times more likely to use alcohol, 8 times more likely to use marijuana, and 22 times more likely to use cocaine.