New study says that smoking could cause brain damage. (news.com.au)

In addition to the plethora of negative health effects that smoking has on the body, new research suggests that smoking also has a negative effect on the brain.

Scientists at King’s College of London studied 8,800 people over the age of 50 for nearly a decade, collecting data about their lifestyles and cognitive abilities. The aim of their work was to see if there is a connection between the health of the cardiovascular system and the brain.

By testing participants after four and eight years, researchers found a strong link between the risk of a heart attack or stroke and the decline of mental abilities. Combined with the natural degradation of the body and mind as we age, tobacco use can decrease the quality and length of life.

While there are no direct links between smoking and dementia, cognitive decline is closely associated with the development of dementia.

Many of the things that accelerate cognitive decline are the choices people make. By adjusting their lifestyles—quitting smoking, keeping a healthy diet and exercising regularly—people can undo some of the damage smoking causes and live longer lives.

Is there a risk for those who do not smoke, but breathe in secondhand smoke?

While this particular study does not mention any effect secondhand smoke might have on brain function, a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2009 concludes that there may be increased risk of cognitive impairment due to secondhand smoke.

The researchers tested the saliva of over 4,800 non-smoking adults over 50 for concentrations of cotinine, a biological substance that indicates exposure to secondhand smoke. After grouping the levels of exposure, the researchers tested the participants to gauge any neurological impairment.

The study’s conclusion was that “exposure to secondhand smoke may be associated with increased odds of cognitive impairment.” The researchers suggested a geographically wider study of other indicators of exposure besides saliva.

The King’s College Student Government Association (SGA) has been working on implementing a smoking ban on campus. The plan has been in development for several years, though little progress has been made. Representatives contacted about the ban did not return comment.

Students surveyed two years ago were in favor of a campus-wide smoking ban two-to-one.

“How can you tell students that they can’t smoke on campus? What are they supposed to do?” said a student opposed to the ban.

“The smoking ban wouldn’t really affect me since I don’t smoke,” said one non-smoker student. “Secondhand smoke doesn’t really bother me because I’m around smokers all the time.”

Currently a 20-foot zone around the entrance to buildings on campus is supposed to be a smoke-free area.

The smoking ban has been controversial among the student community. It has become a question of whether the College can infringe on the rights of smokers to protect the rights of non-smokers.