One cigarette could lead to smoking habit years later: study
LONDON (AFP) - Children who smoke just one cigarette are more than twice as likely to take up the habit in their teenage years, research in the scientific journal Tobacco Control showed.
The study of teenage smoking habits found that the compulsion to smoke after having tried one cigarette can lay dormant for more than three years, indicating a "sleeper effect".
Amongst those who had tried smoking at 11 years old, 18 percent were smokers at the age of 14, while the figure was seven percent for those who had never smoked.
"We know that progression from experimenting with one cigarette to being a smoker can take several years," said lead researcher Jennifer Fidler, from University College London.
"But for the first time we've shown that there may be a period of dormancy between trying cigarettes and becoming a regular smoker -- a 'sleeper effect' or vulnerability to nicotine addiction.
"The results also indicate that prior experimentation is a strong predictor of taking up smoking later."
Researchers said it was possible that nicotine from one cigarette could change the "reward pathway" in the brain -- whereby chemicals are released which make the person think something is enjoyable.
Another theory was that trying a cigarette might simply break down the social barriers that prevent teenagers from smoking, such as fear of their parents' reaction.
According to Cancer Research UK, 14 percent of 11-year-olds and 62 percent of 15-year-olds in England said they had tried cigarettes in 2004.
The study was based on surveys of more than 2,000 youngsters aged 11 to 16 at 36 schools in south London over five years.