Students who smoke are at significantly heightened risk of school failure, but nobody can explain the clear connection. In the latest, large 2016 study of child smokers over one-third of Late Starters (35.8%) and almost half of Continuous Users (44.4%) dropped out of high school. Go figure.
We’ve shown through lab analysis that there are high concentrations of DDT and other endocrine-disrupting pesticides present in tobacco products.
These pesticides are proven to cause severe developmental and cognitive deficiencies. (Peer-reviewed journal links at end of post). Since many dropout teen smokers were also born to smoking mothers, we have to ask if there could be a birth to death connection between tobacco product pesticide contamination and lifelong failure for some, or even many of the 1.2 million children who drop out every year? Are these the “replacement smokers” the industry talks about?
What if DDT-contaminated tobacco products, and perhaps especially little cigars like Swisher Sweets, are directly responsible for at least some of America’s high school dropouts? Could the extreme levels of DDT and other endocrine-disruptors recently (2018) detected in little cigars be contributing to the unusually high rates of ADHD and poor cognitive performance metrics among high school dropouts who smoke them?
Our research strongly suggests that many dropouts may actually be victims of the tobacco product choices that they are being driven to make by poverty, social class, race, and by terribly wrong-headed public policy. Anyone who truly understands the tobacco industry knows that the cheaper the tobacco product, the more contaminated with pesticide residues.
Could high school dropout rates be reduced simply by restricting or banning community-wide sales of tobacco products that are proven to be contaminated with illegal pesticides that are known to present extreme hazards to critical human developmental processes that affect learning and cognition?
- We know that 1.2 million children dropped out of High School in the US in 2016.
- We know that poor non-white children are disproportionately represented in the dropout population and suffer the lifelong consequences disproportionately.
- We know that poor non-white children who are regular smokers disproportionately smoke “little cigars” and that economics is a major factor in this behavior.
- We know that “little cigars” are disproportionately marketed by the manufacturers to poor, non-white and young neighborhoods and communities that, coincidentally or not, have the highest dropout rates.
Our recent lab results show that Swisher Sweets, the most popular brand by far among child smokers 11-17, has extremely hazardous levels of DDT and other endocrine-disrupting pesticides. We are certain that these contamination levels will prove to be representative of little cigars as a product category.
Endocrine-disrupting pesticides are known to present multiple severe hazards to human fetal and child development including high risk of cognitive deficit disorders.
While many of the pesticides identified in Swisher Sweets are unregulated and have very little human toxicological history, DDT has an unequivocal status as an “extreme hazard” to humans and in itself may be sufficient to account for an undetermined portion of observed ADHD and cognitive deficits among child smokers.
- We know that DDT specifically crosses the placental barrier and that this puts the unborn children of pregnant teens who smoke little cigars at severe risk of life-long DDT-related developmental learning disabilities.
- We know that 27% of girls who drop out are pregnant.
- We know that inhaled DDT is incrementally more toxic than dietary DDT.
- We know that poor human diet/nutrition exacerbates the impact of DDT
So, girls who smoke DDT-contaminated little cigars, who are pregnant, who have poor diets, and who drop out of school are themselves severely compromised by the impact of pesticides and are also at heightened risk of giving birth to a baby who is developmentally compromised due to DDT exposure in utero.
We talk about the cycle of poverty. Could tobacco product pesticide poisoning be a 100% preventable driver of a major part of that cycle, failure at school?
Multiple studies show that children who initiate smoking with little cigars are predominantly from low-income families and choose contaminated little cigars over less contaminated cigarettes because of price, convenience and marketing. In other words, their decisions are price-sensitive but otherwise mindless.
We know that a primary tobacco prevention and control strategy is to raise taxes on the theory (that they are scrambling to prove) that higher prices discourage starting and promote quitting. The claim is that this strategy reduces overall harm from smoking. This is demonstrably counter-factual when actual price-sensitive behavior is accounted for, which consists of simply switching to or starting with cheaper brands with greater pesticide contamination. Therefore greater not less harm is done especially to young smokers by increasing taxes as a control and prevention strategy.
We must ask public health authorities and legislators whether tax-based tobacco control and prevention strategies are unintentionally reinforcing dropout rates by driving young smokers to cheaper, more contaminated brands of tobacco products?
Research On Pesticides, Kids & Learning
“We conclude that prenatal DDT levels may be associated with delayed Processing Speed in children at age 7 years and the relationship between prenatal DDE levels and children’s cognitive development may be modified by sex, with girls being more adversely affected.”
“A critical window of exposure to DDE in utero may be the first trimester of the pregnancy, and psychomotor development is a target of this compound. Residues of DDT metabolites may present a risk of developmental delay for years after termination of DDT use.”
“Prenatal exposure to DDT, and to a lesser extent DDE, was associated with neurodevelopmental delays during early childhood, although breastfeeding was found to be beneficial even among women with high levels of exposure. Countries considering the use of DDT should weigh its benefit in eradicating malaria against the negative associations found in this first report on DDT and human neurodevelopment.”
“The authors found higher risk for ADHD-like behaviors assessed with the CRS-T at higher levels of PCBs and p,p’-DDE. These results support an association between low-level prenatal organochlorine exposure and ADHD-like behaviors in childhood.”
“Children with higher urinary DMP concentrations may have a twofold to threefold increased risk of being diagnosed with ADHD. We report a dose-response relationship between child DMP levels and ADHD. Organophosphate pesticide exposure may have deleterious effects on children’s neurodevelopment, particularly the development of ADHD.”
“Results found an association between increasing pyrethroid pesticide exposure and ADHD which may be stronger for hyperactive-impulsive symptoms compared to inattention and in boys compared to girls.”
“The results indicate that both pesticides may induce altered levels of neuroproteins, important for normal brain development, and neurobehavioral abnormalities manifested as altered adult spontaneous behavior and ability to habituate to a novel home environment. The neurotoxic behavioral effects were also present several months after the initial testing, indicating long-lasting or even persistent irreversible effects.”
“Epidemiologic data reveal that children aged 6-15 with detectable levels of pyrethroid metabolites in their urine were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.”
“Results support an association of prenatal OP exposure with deficits in social functioning among blacks and among boys, although this may be in part reflective of differences in exposure patterns.”
“Among the findings associated with increased pesticide levels are poorer mental development by using the Bayley index and increased scores on measures assessing pervasive developmental disorder, inattention, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Related animal toxicology studies provide supportive biological plausibility for these findings.
Additional data suggest that there may also be an association between parental pesticide use and adverse birth outcomes including physical birth defects, low birth weight, and fetal death, although the data are less robust than for cancer and neurodevelopmental effects.
Children’s exposures to pesticides should be limited as much as possible.”