Teens can become addicted after one or two cigarettes
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
By ANDRE PICARD
TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL
Those first few drags may be the deadliest: Nicotine is such a powerful drug that teenagers can become addicted to it after smoking just one or two cigarettes, according to a groundbreaking study.
The research challenges the common assumption that nicotine dependency develops only after years of daily smoking and may help explain why anti-smoking programs aimed at teens fail.
"Kids, when they start to smoke, do so in an erratic, sporadic fashion," said Dr. Jennifer O'Loughlin, a researcher in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at McGill University in Montreal.
"They don't have a pack-a-day habit like adults, but they still become hooked very quickly."
The study, published in today's edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that even among those who had tried smoking only once or twice, some teens experienced cravings associated with addiction.
About 3 percent of these new smokers were hooked, compared with 4.6 percent of those who smoked only once a month. The researchers found that 1 in 5 teens who smoked weekly showed signs of physical addiction. By the time they were smoking daily, two-thirds showed clear signs of nicotine dependency.
"This should serve as a warning to kids and parents about the real dangers of putting that first cigarette into your mouth," O'Loughlin said.
The research also reveals that teenage girls are far more likely to become addicted than boys, but it is unclear why.
The new numbers are derived from a larger research project that is following 1,267 students from 10 Montreal-area high schools to track their smoking habits.
Although it has been assumed that peer pressure and other social factors, such as the desire to lose weight, were most important, O'Loughlin said, the new data suggest that nicotine dependency plays a far greater role than anyone had imagined.
The next phase of the project will try to determine whether some people are genetically predisposed to nicotine addiction.
Minors can easily buy cigarettes today if they turn to the Internet, a new study reports.
Researchers say that when four children, ages 11 to 15, tried to buy cigarettes from 55 vendors in 12 states, they succeeded more than 90 percent of the time.
"There's almost no one minding the store," said the lead author, Dr. Kurt Ribisl of the University of North Carolina School of Public Health. The study was published last week in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
This report includes information from The New York Times.