Kids Can Be Hooked After a Few Cigarettes: Report
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Even dabbling with smoking can be enough to get youngsters "hooked" on cigarettes, researchers report.
"This contradicts everything previously found about how long you need to smoke to get hooked," study author Dr. Joseph R. DiFranza, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, told Reuters Health. "Addiction to nicotine can begin very rapidly, at very small doses of nicotine."
In a study of nearly 700 12- and 13-year-olds, DiFranza's team found that teens who had started smoking were likely to report symptoms of being "hooked," even after only smoking sporadically. For example, of the youths who had ever used tobacco, even if they had only take a puff, 40% reported symptoms of dependence--which include cravings and withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and mood swings .
The findings are published in the September issue of the journal Tobacco Control.
"Before the study, it was assumed that it took two years for kids to get hooked on tobacco--that they would have to smoke it every day, at least a half a pack per day," DiFranza said. "Nobody suspected that people would have trouble quitting if they didn't smoke every day, but actually, it was quite common."
Overall, nearly half the youths reported using some form of tobacco over the course of the 30-month study. On average, they were just under 12 years old when they took their first puff.
Of all the adolescents who reported some symptoms of addiction, one third were only smoking once a month, and half were smoking once a week.
In addition, the researchers found it did not take long for the youths to develop an addiction. "Half the kids were hooked before they had been smoking two months," DiFranza noted.
Girls also seemed to get hooked quicker than boys, and reported more symptoms of dependence.
"Half the girls who became hooked had symptoms within three weeks. For boys it was six months," DiFranza said. "Girls appear to be especially vulnerable to rapidly developing a dependence on nicotine."
The teens who reported one or more symptoms of addiction were also more likely to have difficulty quitting, with those teens being 30 times more likely to fail at quitting smoking and 44 times more likely to still be smoking at the end of the study than kids with no symptoms of addiction.
Overall, a teenager may be more vulnerable to nicotine dependence than an adult because the teen's brain is still developing, according to DiFranza.
"I'd like to see the message get out to kids that you can't experiment with tobacco. There's no way of smoking safely," DiFranza said. "We need to convince kids that trying even one cigarette can lead to a lifelong addiction."