New Analysis Negates Tobacco Industry's Claims About Protecting Against Alzheimer's

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Recently, I’ve been sorting through my mom’s clothes, which had been stored since 2006 in plastic tubs in my garage. This activity brought back a lot of memories. I found the clothes that she would wear when we went to the opera in 2000 and the clothes that I would see her in when she was gardening. And as I opened up one of the lids, I saw some of her favorite clothes, ones that she would wear when we were going out to dinner to mark a special occasion.


    As I pulled the jackets and skirts out of the storage container, my senses gave me notice of another memory – the faint smell of smoke from her cigarettes. You see, my mom was a big smoker. She started in her teens and continued lighting up until her 70s when she diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. In her last years of smoking, she went through about two packs a day, claiming that she was using the “low tar” cigarettes that were safer, according to the tobacco industry.

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    I share this story with you because a new analysis by the University of California-San Francisco, which analyzed published studies on the relationship between Alzheimer’s and smoking, has found that smoking cigarettes is a significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s. The research, which is published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, involves a review of 43 published studies from 1984 to 2007. Approximately a quarter of the studies that were analyzed were affiliated with the tobacco industry.

    Interestingly, the UCSF researchers found an association between tobacco industry affiliation and the conclusions of individual studies. The researchers reported that industry-affiliated studies found that smoking protects against the development of Alzheimer’ disease, while independent studies reported an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. To determine if there was a tobacco industry affiliation, the UCSF researchers identified if previous study authors had connections to the tobacco industry by analyzing 877 previously secret tobacco industry documents. They used the authors’ current or past funding, employment, paid consultation, and collaboration or co-authorship on a study with someone who had current or previous tobacco industry funding within 10 years of publication.

    The UCSF analysis also found that studies that were not supported by the tobacco industry estimated that smoking may nearly double the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. This figure doesn’t surprise me since I reported in a 2007 sharepost that a study published in Neurology found that people who were current smokers at the time of the study were 50 percent more likely to develop dementia than people who had never smoked or past smokers. That study followed 7,000 people who were ages 55 and older for an average of seven years.

    Having watched the tobacco industry’s sleight-of-hand throughout my lifetime, I (unfortunately) would not be surprised to find that a good portion of the industry-affiliated studies to be tainted. The sad part is the impact that this slated studies can have on people’s lives. The American Lung Association reports that every year more than 392,000 people die in the United States from tobacco-caused disease while another 50,000 people die from exposure to second-hand smoke. These numbers make me sad when I think of my mother in her last years. She was confined to a wheelchair, wearing oxygen 24/7, and incapacitated mentally. That very real and personal picture of smoking’s impact is one that the tobacco industry wants people not to see.

Published On: February 18, 2010