L O N D O N, Sept. 12, 2000 -- Scientists have confirmed a suspicion held by somesmokers but never proven: It could take just a few cigarettes tobecome addicted.
Some 12- and 13-year-olds showed evidence of addiction withindays of their first cigarette, according to research reported thisweek in the British Medical Association journal Tobacco Control.
“There’s been a suspicion that many people become addicted veryquickly, but this is really the first hard evidence that we’ve hadthat this occurs,” said Dr. Richard Hurt, director of the NicotineDependency Unit at the Mayo Clinic.
Experts have tried for years to determine how long people haveto smoke before becoming addicted, and “the best answer to datehad been 1-2 years,” said Hurt, who was not involved in the study.
He said the findings will help scientists better understand thebiology of nicotine addiction and lend more plausibility to theidea that some people may be more genetically susceptible to itthan others.
“The really important implication of this study is that we haveto warn kids that you can’t just fool around with cigarettes orexperiment with cigarettes for a few weeks and then give it up,”said Dr. Joseph DiFranza, who lead the research at the Universityof Massachusetts. “If you fool around with cigarettes for a fewweeks, you may be addicted for life.”
The study, conducted in 1998, followed 681 12- to 13-year-oldsin central Massachusetts for a year and tracked their smokinghabits.
The researchers did not label any of them addicted because thestandard definition of nicotine dependence assumes addiction cannothappen without prolonged heavy smoking. The scientists simplyrecorded symptoms that indicate addiction.
These include cravings, needing more to get the same buzz,withdrawal symptoms when not smoking, feeling addicted to tobaccoand loss of control over the number of cigarettes smoked or theduration of smoking.
Ninety-five of the youths said they had started smokingoccasionally — at least one cigarette a month — during the study.The scientists found that 60, or 63 percent, had one or moresymptoms of addiction.
A quarter of those with symptoms got them within two weeks ofstarting to smoke and several said their symptoms began within afew days.
Sixty-two percent said they had their first symptom before theybegan smoking every day, or that the symptoms made them startsmoking daily.
The researchers found that the symptoms began soon after theteens started smoking.
Even though some people who have never smoked on a daily basiscan find it hard to quit, the assumption that smokers only becomeaddicted after smoking a lot of cigarettes over a long period oftime came from observations that some people can smoke fivecigarettes a day for many years and not become addicted, the studynoted.
However, it has never been proven that daily smoking isnecessary for addiction to begin, the study added.
The scientists suggested there may be three types of smokers:Those who become addicted very quickly, those who get hookedgradually after more regular smoking and those who can smokelightly or pick up and drop the habit without becoming addicted.
It is also possible that adolescents could be more sensitive tonicotine and that addiction may take longer in people who startsmoking at a later age, they added.