White Youngsters Smoke Cigarettes at Earlier Ages
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - White smokers in the US say they started their habit at an earlier age than their African-American or Hispanic counterparts, researchers report.
The earlier an individual begins smoking, the more likely they are to be a heavy smoker in later adulthood and the less likely they are to try to quit.
The findings are from a survey of nearly 8,000 Air Force recruits with an average age of 19.
``There are major differences between ethnic groups in how early in adolescence they start to smoke,'' lead study author Dr. Harry A. Lando of the University of Minnesota told Reuters Health.
White recruits, for example, became smokers at an average of 15.5 years of age, Hispanic smokers at 16 years of age and African Americans at an average of nearly 17 years of age. Some whites smoked their first cigarette as early as age 5, Hispanics had their first puff as early as age 6 and the earliest smokers among African Americans tried cigarettes at 7 years of age. The findings are published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.
``Early age of initiation overall is strongly associated with being more dependent on cigarettes and being less interested in quitting,'' Lando said.
The earlier an individual started smoking, the more likely they were to be highly dependent on nicotine--at least in whites and Hispanics. There was no link between the two in African-American recruits.
For all three ethnic groups, the earlier recruits started smoking the less likely they were to want to quit.
Those African Americans and Hispanic recruits who started smoking at a very early age were four and five times less likely to intend to quit after basic military training than their peers who began smoking at 18 years and older, note Lando and his colleagues. Whites who began smoking earlier--between 5 and 14 years of age--were two times less likely to intend to quit than those who began smoking at 17 years of age or older.
Early smoking was associated with a number of other unhealthy lifestyle factors, such as less exercise (among whites), and more frequent binge drinking and less seatbelt use among whites and Hispanics, Lando said.
In all three ethnic groups, early smoking was associated with a higher intake of high fat foods, and a greater tendency to agree with the statement that ``taking illegal drugs was worth the risks involved,'' the authors write.
Acknowledging that the ``underlying reasons for these differences are not fully clear,'' the authors called for further research in an older, more representative population.
``From the results of this and other studies, even if smoking cannot be prevented, it appears useful to delay onset as long as possible,'' Lando added. ``The current findings underscore the importance of enforcing age of sale laws and of keeping tobacco products out of the hands of minors.''