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Thursday, 29 August, 2002, 00:12 GMT 01:12 UK
One drag 'can hook children'
Boy smoking
Half of boys were hooked within six months
Children become addicted to cigarettes very quickly, and in some cases just one puff is enough to get them hooked.

US researchers say teenagers appear to be more vulnerable than adults to the addictive effects of nicotine because their brains are still developing.

Two other studies found children's smoking habits were heavily influenced by teachers and peers who smoked.


Teenagers typically underestimate the power of nicotine

Amanda Sandford, ASH

Forty per cent of 332 children studied in the US research who had tried tobacco, even just once, reported symptoms of addiction.

Just over half of the 237 who had inhaled reported addiction symptoms.

'Hooked within days'

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School followed the 12 and 13-year olds for 30 months.

They found girls became addicted much more quickly than boys.

Teenage girls took an average of three weeks from when they started to smoke occasionally to become addicted.

For boys, half were hooked within six months from beginning to smoke occasionally.

Dr Joseph DiFranza, who led the study, said: "Some of these kids were hooked within a few days of starting to smoke."

It had been thought that young smokers only became addicted when they were smoking 10 or more cigarettes a day.

But the US research found even teenagers who were smoking as few as two cigarettes per week were showing signs of addiction.

Two-thirds showed symptoms even before they had started smoking every day.

'Highly addictive'

The researchers said their findings indicated a new term - "juvenile onset nicotine dependence" - was needed to describe the phenomenon.

In addition to having developing brains, more vulnerable to nicotine, the researchers say the chemical had a stronger and longer lasting effect on teenagers' brains.

The researchers write in the journal Tobacco Control: "Youths can lose their autonomy over tobacco use - that is, they can get hooked, very quickly and at very low levels of nicotine exposure.

"For some victims of tobacco, their unfortunate fates may have been cast with their first few cigarettes."

Amanda Sandford, research manager for Action on Smoking and Health, told BBC News Online: "Nicotine is a highly addictive potent drug but until now there have been few studies to measure the level of addiction in young people.

"Teenagers typically underestimate the power of nicotine, possibly because tobacco is a legal drug, and is not perceived to be as dangerous as many illegal substances."

Commenting on the influence of peers' and teachers' smoking habits, she added: "These studies add to the weight of knowledge about the physical effects of nicotine and the normalisation of smoking among young people.

"They shed some light on why, despite the devastating health consequences, young people continue to experiment with smoking and quickly become addicted."

See also:

20 Jun 02 | Health
19 Jan 02 | England
26 Dec 01 | Health
08 Feb 00 | Health
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