Is Smoking a Gateway?

During the past few SC 200 classes, we’ve learned that, after years and years of observational studies and experiments, smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer. When I was a child, one of my mother’s friends passed away from cigarette-induced lung cancer, so I found these lectures very engaging.

When we discussed the risks associated with cigarette smoking (before the results of the experiments were confirmed), we also discussed confounding variables that might have caused the cancer. Some of the studies we examined suggested that sometimes people only smoked when they were stressed or while they were drinking. And I wondered, is there a correlation between smoking and drinking? What about smoking and other drugs?

My hypothesis is that people who smoke cigarettes are more likely to both consume alcohol and do drugs than non-cigarette-smokers.


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One study I came across on the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, cigarettes and alcohol use complement each other. Some people were given regular cigarettes, and others were given nicotine-free cigarettes. The people who smoked nicotine-filled cigarettes ended up drinking more alcohol. It also showed a reverse relationship, that the pleasure of cigarette use improves when simultaneously occurring with alcohol consumption. This is very interesting as a non-smoker. I never really knew that there was a pleasurable feeling that came from cigarettes–I kind of always just assumed people smoked because they were simply addicted and craved it.

At the University of Missouri, according to author Dana Dovey on Medical Daily, the nicotine intake from smoking cigarettes counteracts the drowsy-effect alcohol had on drinkers. Who knew?

The article also confirmed that the sensations that come from alcohol and cigarettes complement each other when simultaneously occurring. It stated that 90% of alcoholics were also cigarette smokers!

Ok, so smoking and drinking usually happen together. But do cigarettes lead to use of other drugs? An experiment to find the answer to this would probably be unethical–people can’t really randomly be assigned to use illegal drugs (and it obviously wouldn’t be a double-blind experiment, either).

According to Tobacco Free Kids, over 2/3 of 12th graders who’d smoked weed had smoked cigarettes first, and 98% of the 12th graders who’d used cocaine and cigarettes  preceded the cocaine use with cigarette smoking. Tobacco Free Kids also explains that kids who start smoking before the age of 15 are multiple times more likely to use illegal drugs like cocaine and marijuana. The article also describes that heavier smokers are also more inclined to do drugs than non-heavy smokers.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows the same results as Tobacco Free Kids, and emphasizes the fact that youthful smoking is the worst problem, causing kids to later turn to cocaine, weed, and crack. Cocaine is the most common drug used by childhood cigarette smokers.


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All in all, my hypothesis was correct. People who smoke usually also drink, and are more likely to turn to other illegal drug use later in life.

The only issue is–the illegal drug and cigarette use correlation is simply that–correlation does not necessarily mean causation. Perhaps there could be other confounding variables.What if teens who start smoking young come from abusive households, and abusive households cause people to turn to drugs? There could be many possibilities.

Sometimes when I watch TV at night, I see a commercial that claims our generation could be the one to completely eliminate cigarette use. Maybe, with the end of cigarette use, drug and alcohol use and consumption might decrease, overall increasing the health of our society.

4 thoughts on “Is Smoking a Gateway?

  1. Margaret Marchok

    Molly- this was a really good post. I thought you did a great job of finding facts and incorporating them into your writing. Your post actually reminded me of a habit that is quite common among college students- “drunk cigarettes.” That is, some people have a tendency to only smoke when they are drunk. This can be very bad because when you are drunk, your judgement is severely impaired. As we have been learning, cigarettes are not good for you, and using them when your control is limited is not a good idea. This article gives more insight as to why people smoke when they are drunk- Enjoy!

  2. Matthew O'Brien

    I thought this was a very good post that incorporated concepts from class well. I have a couple of comments that might further the discussion:

    1) You seem to have misinterpreted the 98% statistic from your source called Tobacco Free Kids. You claim in your post that 98 percent of 12th grade cocaine users had used cigarettes first. Your source says that 98 percent of 12th graders who have used BOTH cocaine and cigarettes used cigarettes first- NOT that 98 percent of ALL 12th grade cocaine users used cigarettes first as you claimed. This does not necessarily derail your hypothesis, but it does make me wonder what the actual number might be.

    2) I think its very interesting and noteworthy to consider the fact that an increase in the price of cigarettes decreases demand for both cigarettes and marijuana. This is further evidence to support the idea that people who use one of these substances are more likely to use the other as well.

    1. Molly Mccarthy Tompson Post author

      Thank you for noticing my misinterpretation. I read the statistic more carefully and updated my post to accurately reflect what the article stated.

  3. Natalie Elizabeth Burns

    Hi Molly! Great post. I think it’s really interesting to look at some of the points you highlighted in your article such as the point that 90% of alcoholics are also smokers. And now that I think about it, whenever we have a family party where drinking is happening, I always see my cousins/ aunts/ uncles smoke more and have to take more smoke breaks. I wonder what the chemical makeup component is that makes you crave a cigarette when drinking or vice versa. I know there are also other things people crave while drinking alcohol according to this article: I think it would be interesting to look at that possibility. Also, I see the commercials about how generation is phasing out cigarettes however, I usually see many people smoking cigarettes or smoking pot. I wonder if smoking pot is now becoming a trade off to smoking cigarettes. Another thing to look at maybe would be the fact that in the 1960s smoking cigarettes was a very common thing, however in the following decade, smoking pot was rather prevalent. I wonder if there a correlation between trading off the two smokes.

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