Chewing tobacco hampers ability to perform complex tasks

November 14, 1999

The nicotine in smokeless tobacco reduces an individual's ability to perform complex tasks that require hand and body movements to adjust to new visual feedback, according to new research.

During a visuo-motor task, smokeless tobacco users exhibited slower learning and adjustment to new requirements, more jerks, slower and more irregular movements, and less accurate overall performance compared to non-smokers.

"Our results suggest that tobacco use on the job can reduce an individual's capability to learn new visuo-motor mapping and adapt his or her performance to new visual feedback," said lead author Jose Contreras-Vidal, Ph.D., University of Maryland Department of Kinesiology.

Participants were tested individually for approximately two hours on three separate tasks that required drawing the straightest possible path as quickly as possible from a central point on a computer screen to a target that lit up in one of four different positions on the edges of the screen. The results of the study conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland and Arizona State University appear in the November issue of Nicotine & Tobacco.

The first baseline task was performed by 10 tobacco users after at least eight hours of tobacco abstinence, and by 11 non-users. No differences in performance were found between the two groups on this trial.

Tobacco users then were given a pinch of smokeless tobacco immediately before the second test, in which the feedback screen was rotated by 45 degrees. Tobacco chewers performed this task significantly below the level of non-users on accuracy and smoothness of movements. Non-smokers greatly reduced the jerkiness of their movements between sessions one and two, while tobacco users did not.

The third test, a post-adaptation session, was identical with the first. It was intended to measure readaptation following the 45 degree rotation of targets in the second session. Non-users continued to improve the smoothness of their movements in this session, but tobacco chewers did not.

The research was supported by the Smokeless Tobacco Research Council.
Nicotine & Tobacco Research is the official peer-reviewed quarterly journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco. For information about the journal, contact Gary E. Swan, Ph.D., at 650-859-5322.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, 202-387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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