Researcher seeks 1,200 6th-graders
Researchers studying nicotine addiction are looking for 1,200 sixth-graders for a three-year study they hope will answer such questions as why some people get addicted to smoking while others do not.
Dr. Joseph R. DiFranza, professor of family medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, said the Development and Assessment of Nicotine Dependence in Youths -- or DANDY -- study is the continuation of a project that began four years ago.
That study involved 700 seventh-graders from Fitchburg and Leominster, all of whom were interviewed three times a year for three years.
â€œThe first DANDY study completely overturned notions about how nicotine dependence begins,â€ Dr. DiFranza said. â€œWe used to think that it took years and thousands of cigarettes for kids to get hooked. The DANDY study taught us that it can take only a few days and a few cigarettes for nicotine addiction to start.â€
The results of that study led to a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse for an expanded study.
â€œThe first DANDY study taught us that most kids who try tobacco get hooked very quickly, but we also noticed that some kids who used tobacco never got hooked at all,â€ Dr. DiFranza said. â€œBy comparing kids who get hooked quickly to those who never get hooked, we may be able to figure out what makes some people vulnerable to addiction.â€
Most smokers pick up the habit in the eighth or ninth grades, Dr. DiFranza said.
â€œWe want to determine why some people are so sensitive and others are not sensitive,â€ he said. â€œWe want to interview them before they start using to see if we can predict who will start and who won't.â€
Smokers who feel nauseated the first time they try a cigarette, he added, are more likely to become addicted. â€œWe think they might be more sensitive to nicotine,â€ he said. â€œWhat we found in our previous survey was girls developed a dependence far quicker than boys, and we're trying to determine why that is.â€
The researchers already have begun sending letters to parents of sixth-graders in Fitchburg, Leominster and Clinton, seeking permission to include their children in the study.
Participants will be interviewed in their physical education classes to avoid loss of classroom time, Dr. DiFranza said. The interviews, to be done by three area women, will take about 10 minutes each.
The pupils' names will be kept confidential, he said, even though their interview responses will be tracked over the three years of the study.
Pupils who participate will be asked innocuous questions, Dr. DiFranza said, such as whether they consider themselves risk-takers. They also will be asked what types of movies they watch, since prior studies have shown that young people who watch movies featuring smoking are more likely to pick up the habit.
The study also will ask participants whether their friends smoke, and how they get access to cigarettes.
Dr. DiFranza stressed that children do not need to be smokers to participate in the study.
â€œWe hope none of them will smoke, but we know there are going to be some kids who smoke no matter what,â€ he said. â€œThe experiences of these children will contribute a great deal to our understanding of how nicotine addiction gets started. If we can understand how it gets started we will be in a better position to help them quit.â€