Hooking Teens on Cigarettes in a Flash

The students in my classes sometimes argue that, even though they have an "occasional" cigarette, they are not really "hooked" or dependent upon the nicotine they are inhaling. My response has usually been to suggest that they try to go without a cigarette for a week and come back to tell me about their lack of addiction. None has ever come back. Now, I understand why they don't ever return.

In a new clinical study reported in the July, 2007 issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, the researchers followed 1246 sixth-grade students in Massachusetts for four years. By the end of their study, 217 of their participants reported inhaling while smoking. So, how many of these 10th graders could now be considered dependent on nicotine? Using the "Hooked on Nicotine Checklist" as the measure of loss of autonomy over tobacco and the ICD-10's definition of tobacco dependence, the results were startling. More than half these adolescents (N = 127; 54.5% of smokers) had lost their autonomy over tobacco use and 83 inhalers (38.2% of smokers) were fully tobacco dependent. Further, the speed with which autonomy loss was reached was extremely fast: 10% of these smokers had lost their autonomy within 2 days of beginning to smoke and 25% within the first month of first inhaling. Of those who were tobacco dependent, half had reached that condition by the time they were smoking just 46 cigarettes per month, i.e., one and a half cigarettes per day. The authors conclude

[t]he most susceptible youths lose autonomy over tobacco within a day or 2 of first inhaling from a cigarette. The appearance of tobacco withdrawal symptoms and failed attempts at cessation can precede daily smoking; ICD-10-defined dependence can precede daily smoking and typically appears before consumption reaches 2 cigarettes per day.

These data ought to speak loud and clear (though I know they won't) to teenagers and young adults who think that a couple of cigarettes every once in a while mean nothing. The ease with which tobacco use hooks its addicts is simply amazing.

Target article: DiFranza, J. R., Savageau, J. A., Fletcher, K., O'Loughlin, J., Pbert, L., Ockene, J. K., McNeill, A. D., Hazelton, J., Friedman, K., Dussault, G., Wood, C, & Wellman, R. J. (2007). Symptoms of tobacco dependence after brief intermittent use: The development and assessment of nicotine dependence in Youth-2 study. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 161, 704-710. [Link to abstract]

Newspaper report: Bakalar, N. (2007, July 31). Nicotine addiction is quick in youths, research finds. New York Times [Electronic version]

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