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The BBC's Richard Hannaford
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Dr Joseph DiFranza, University of Massachusetts
"A great number of kids are experiencing difficulties quitting"
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Monday, 11 September, 2000, 23:32 GMT 00:32 UK
Smoking addiction 'sets in early'
Teenage smokers
Some teenagers became addicted within days
People can become addicted to nicotine in just a few days and after just a handful of cigarettes, according to a study.

Research carried out in the US suggests that nicotine may be much more addictive than originally thought.

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts examined the effects of smoking on more than 700 children, aged between 12 and 13 years.

They found that many children were addicted to nicotine almost immediately.

Many showed symptoms of addiction when they were just smoking occasionally and were not lighting up every day.

But the study also found that some children could smoke up to five cigarettes a day without showing any signs of addiction.

The researchers said smokers could be grouped into three categories depending on the speed with which they became addicted to nicotine.

These were:

  • The "love at first sight" smokers who developed symptoms of addiction within days or weeks of smoking occasionally;

  • The "gradual addicts" who took months or years of regular smoking before becoming addicted; and

  • The "chippers" who can smoke up to five cigarettes a day over many years with no evidence of addiction.

    Of the 700 children surveyed, 95 said they smoked occasionally which was less than once a month.

    Of these, two thirds showed signs of being addicted to nicotine.

    The same proportion said they felt dependent on nicotine before they began smoking every day.

    One in four said they began to feel addicted within two weeks and several admitted to being hooked within days of having their first cigarette.

    But 14% said they did not have any of the symptoms associated with nicotine dependence. These included having cravings, finding it hard to quit or feeling irritable if they didn't smoke.

    Early addiction

    The researchers said the findings showed that people could become addicted to nicotine very early on.

    "In this study, symptoms of nicotine dependence were reported to be present in many smokers before daily smoking.

    "These results are consistent with previous reports and indicate that daily smoking is unlikely therefore to be a prerequisite for the development of nicotine dependence."

    Clive Bates, director of the anti-smoking group ASH, said: "This research adds confidence to the theory that getting addicted isn't something that happens by the time you are 40.

    "The dependence can become apparent in the very early years of smoking.

    "After the glamour of starting smoking subsides, that addiction can be strong enough to propel people into a lifetime habit of smoking."

    He added: "The big risk for youngsters is that while they are not going to get lung cancer in their teens and 20s, when they want to give up in their 30s they are going to find it very hard."

    The study is published in the latest issue of the medical journal Tobacco Control, published by the British Medical Journal.

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