Scientists at Upstate recently showed that nicotine, the most addictive of more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco, modifies part of the brain responsible for smell and changes the neural sensitivity of the olfactory cells in the noses of the babies in utero. This is what leads them to develop a preference for the sweet, warm and spicy odor of nicotine, according to Nicole Mantella, a graduate student in the lab of professor Steven Youngentob, PhD.
Youngentob’s lab in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences explores what drives kids to have that first cigarette, or that first drink. He has done similar work showing how alcohol exposure in the womb can create a craving in adolescence.
He is alarmed that with all we know about the dangers of smoking, 25 percent of smoking women who become pregnant continue to smoke during pregnancy. Not only does this put babies at risk for stillbirth or prematurity, but they are also more likely to have behavioral problems such as hyperactivity and impulsivity and defects in learning, memory and attention – and to become smokers, themselves.
Listen to the HealthLink on Air radio interview with Dr. Youngentob