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Study Finds Ethnic Differences in Nicotine Metabolism

Smoking is a risky habit regardless of an individual¿s ethnicity, but that¿s not to say that everyone responds to it the same way. Indeed, scientists have known for some time that ethnic variations do exist in smoking behavior and lung cancer risk. Now the results of a study appearing in the January 16 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute add further weight to that assertion. According to the report, Chinese-Americans take in less nicotine per cigarette and metabolize it more slowly than do Latinos or whites, which could help explain why Chinese-Americans have a lower rate of lung cancer than other groups do.

The University of California at San Francisco team that conducted the research studied 131 healthy smokers self-identified as Chinese, Latino and non-Latino whites, to whom they gave injections of labeled nicotine. Blood and urine analyses revealed that the Chinese-American subjects metabolized the nicotine 35 percent more slowly than Latino or white participants did. Also, whereas Latinos smoked fewer cigarettes than whites but took in a comparable amount of nicotine per cigarette smoked, the researchers report, the Chinese-American smokers not only smoked fewer cigarettes, they also took in less nicotine (and therefore less tobacco smoke) than members of the other ethnic groups¿presumably because the substance lingers in their system longer.

The research could have implications for smokers looking to kick the habit. "Our findings suggest that Chinese-Americans and Chinese who are trying to stop smoking may need a different dose of nicotine medication than do Caucasians," team member Neal Benowitz asserts. The investigators further note that their study results underscore the importance of recognizing ethnic differences in drug metabolism when developing other kinds of drugs as well.

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