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Higher concentrations of melanin — the color pigment in skin and hair — may be placing darker pigmented smokers at increased susceptibility to nicotine dependence and tobacco-related carcinogens than lighter skinned smokers, according to scientists.

“We have found that the concentration of melanin is directly related to the number of cigarettes smoked daily, levels of nicotine dependence, and nicotine exposure among African Americans,” said Gary King, professor of biobehavioral health, Penn State.

King states that previous research shows that nicotine has a biochemical affinity for melanin. Conceivably, this association could result in an accumulation of the addictive agent in melanin-containing tissues of smokers with greater amounts of skin pigmentation.

“The point of the study is that, if in fact, nicotine does bind to melanin, populations with high levels of melanin could indicate certain types of smoking behavior, dependence, and health outcomes that will be different from those in less pigmented populations,” explained King. “And the addiction process may very well be longer and more severe.”

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