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Who’d Have Thought?

We know how dangerous smoking can be. Smoking tobacco produces thousands of harmful chemicals associated with illnesses like heart disease, lung disease and cancer. Around fifty percent of smokers will die as a result of smoking related illness and the lifespan of the average smoker is about ten years shorter than a non-smoker.
The effect that smoking can have on the health of teenagers has recently hit the headlines after researchers published a report on the subject. The report showed that teenagers who smoke and drink alcohol can suffer from arterial stiffness which is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease. This means that teenagers who smoke and drink even moderate amounts are increasing their risk of heart problems in the future, including heart attacks.
Over a thousand participants had their arteries examined at the age of seventeen. Participants also filled out questionnaires on their alcohol intake and how much they smoked. Teenagers who smoked were found to have stiffer arteries than non-smokers, increasing their risk of cardiovascular disease and heavy drinkers also had stiffer arteries.
There are limitations to this research, like other studies that involve participants filling out questionnaires to self-report data. The levels of alcohol and cigarette consumption reported are likely to be estimates rather than exact numbers. The research showed that teenagers who smoke and drink have stiffer arteries, but it doesn’t prove for certain that this arterial damage can lead to cardiovascular disease. A long term study following participants over decades would be needed to address that question.
But the results of this research do support what we already know about the harmful effects of smoking.

ALSPAC Project

The research into the effect of smoking and drinking on the arteries of teenagers used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children or ALSPAC project.
ALSPAC is a cohort study following thousands of families around Bristol and is funded by the UK Medical Research Council, the British Heart Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and the University of Bristol. The study originally focused on a group of children born in the area between 1991 and 1992 but has expanded to include the families of the original participants.
Data from the ALSPAC project is used in a variety of research studies including healthcare and education analysis.

The research into the effect of smoking and drinking on the arteries of teenagers was carried out by University College London, the University of Bristol, King’s College London, St Thomas’ Hospital London and the Queen Silvia Children’s Hospital in Sweden. And the study itself was published in the European Heart Journal.
While the data gathered by ALSPAC is used in a lot of studies, it wasn’t specifically designed to investigate the effect of smoking and drinking on the arteries of teenagers. Some of the information was self-reported by participants, which means that the information gathered isn’t a complete record of what the researchers needed to know.

Pulse wave velocity (PWV) was used to measure the femoral and carotid arteries (the main arteries in the leg and neck) of participants when they were seventeen years old. PWV can be used to evaluate arterial stiffness by measuring the flow of blood through an artery.
A questionnaire was used to determine whether the participants were heavy, moderate or light smokers as well as how heavily they used alcohol. Researchers also recorded details like how often the participants smoked or drank as well as how old they were when they started.
To evaluate the effect that smoking and drinking had on arterial health, the researchers also asked participants about other cardiovascular risk factors. Blood pressure, cholesterol, liver function, blood inflammatory markers, socioeconomic status, weight and levels of exercise were all recorded and used to adjust the impact of smoking and drinking. This was done to reduce the chance of other factors influencing the findings of the study.

Results And Conclusions

The research found that around twenty-four percent of participants smoked and the majority reported drinking a moderate amount. The study also showed that smoking was more common in lower socioeconomic classes while alcohol consumption was common throughout all participants.
The teenagers who smoked had stiffer arteries than non-smokers and the effect was more severe with heavier smokers. Unsurprisingly, participants who had been smoking since the age of thirteen also had stiffer arteries than those who started smoking later. This suggests that the damage caused to arteries by smoking is cumulative, getting worse the longer someone uses cigarettes.

Drinking had a similar effect on arterial health as smoking. Heavy drinkers had stiffer arteries than light or moderate drinkers.

Conclusions

Researchers used data from over a thousand participants to evaluate the effect of smoking and alcohol consumption on the arterial health of teenagers.
The report concludes that smoking and alcohol use were associated with increased arterial stiffness. Arterial stiffness is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, meaning that teenagers who smoke or drink have higher chances of developing heart problems in the future.
But there are some limitations to this research. The data was taken from over a thousand people, which is less than ten percent of the total number taking part in ALSPAC and all the participants were from one geographic area.
Some of the information used was self-reported data taken from questionnaires. This means that the levels of alcohol and cigarette consumption reported are likely to be estimates rather than exact numbers. A larger scale study that follows teenage participants into adulthood would provide more information on the effect of smoking and drinking on arterial health as well as how this damage affects the chances of heart problems in later life.
The findings of this research suggest that teenage smokers are increasing their chances of developing cardiovascular disease in the future. The report also suggested that public health strategies were needed to prevent adoption of these habits in adolescence, which means that the best way of preventing this issue is by discouraging smoking and drinking among teenagers.

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