Background: Cigarette smoking represents a significant health problem and tobacco has been identified as causing more preventable diseases and premature deaths than any other drug. Although health consequences from smoking have been documented, there has been a surprising lack of research into behavioural consequences.
Aims: To review what is known of the long-term relationship between patterns of tobacco use prior to age 18 years and behavioural consequences in adulthood.
Method: A literature search of electronic abstraction services from 1980 to September 2005 was conducted. To be included in the review, studies had to have large, representative samples, be longitudinal studies with baseline age under 18 years and follow-up age 18 years or older and clarify effects due to attrition, leaving 16 articles that met the inclusion criteria. Two reviewers evaluated each paper.
Findings: Adolescent tobacco use predicts a range of early adult social and health problems. Surprisingly few studies met the inclusion criteria. The limited evidence available suggests that adolescent tobacco smoking increases the likelihood of early adult tobacco use and the initiation of alcohol use or the development of alcohol-related problems. The link between adolescent tobacco use and subsequent cannabis use was not resolved convincingly from the studies summarized. The effects of tobacco use on later illicit drug use tended to fall away when adjusting for underlying risk factors. Existing studies of the effects of tobacco use on later mental health have many limitations. Nevertheless, a finding that youth tobacco use may predict subsequent mental health problems deserves further investigation. The possible effects of tobacco use on academic/social problems and sleep problems also warrant further investigation.
Conclusion: This review highlights links between youth tobacco use and subsequent behavioural and mental health problems. It provides health care professionals with evidence of the possible harmful effects of youth tobacco smoking on later social, emotional, and behavioural well-being.