Weak-willed smokers can blame genes
Light up, take a puff and blame your parents. Smoking, apparently, is in the genes. In a snub to those who blame peer pressure, rock stars and Formula One, an American study has proved for the first time that the habit of smoking regularly is largely inhe
The findings raise the possibility of genetically testing smokers to determine the best treatment for helping them to give up.
In the first study of its kind, researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University analysed the habits of 778 pairs of twins, some of whom were brought up together and some separated in early childhood. The results, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry , show that 60 per cent of the differences between people's susceptibility to smoking is genetic, 20 per cent is due to family environment and 20 per cent due to the individual's experiences.
'Individuals differ substantially in their vulnerability to smoking. It's not the case that people smoke just because of social peer pressure,' said the author, Dr Kenneth Kendler.
He says there isn't a single 'smoking gene', but many genes that cause some people to find giving up much harder than others. Some genes may make nicotine more addictive or pleasant. Others could give a predisposition to character traits, such as being stressed, that make smoking more likely.
But Kendler insisted that 'bad genes' were no excusefor smoking. 'Genes may make it more pleasurable or more addictive, but they don't make you pick up a cigarette and light it. Smoking remains a voluntary act.'
The report has sparked fierce debate in the US, reminiscent of the uproar that followed the claim of a 'gay gene', which was equally welcomed and reviled.
Amanda Sandford, head of research at the anti-smoking charity Ash, welcomed the findings: 'We've always had the suspicion that there's more to getting people to give up. It seems very plausible that some people are more genetically predisposed to be addicted. They could be targeted for extra special help in giving up.'
However, the genetic theory was ridiculed by Simon Clark, director of the smoker's rights organisation, Forest. 'In the Seventies, the anti-smoking lobby were forced to accept that adults have a right to choose. Ever since, they've been looking at ways of getting round that - first passive smoking, then the addiction argument, now the idea that it's genetic,' said Clark.
'It would be terrible to think there are people suppressing their tobacco gene.'