Just a puff can lead to nicotine addiction. Children can get hooked at very low levels of exposure.

Thursday 29 August 2002

ASH news release:  Embargo: 0.01 29 August 2002     
Children who experiment with smoking can very quickly get hooked on nicotine and it only takes a few cigarettes to turn them into regular smokers, a new study has found. [1]  Two other studies published today show that smoking by peers and teachers can also independently influence the take up of smoking by young teenagers. [2]

The study on nicotine addiction was conducted among American teenagers aged 12-13.  The authors found that among 332 schoolchildren who had ever tried tobacco, even just a puff, 40% reported symptoms of addiction.  Among 237 students who had inhaled, 53% reported symptoms.   Addiction set in very quickly: for girls it only took an average of 3 weeks from when they started to smoke occasionally, while among boys the average period of addiction was reported within 6 months.

The other two studies provide an insight into the factors which keep young people smoking once they start to experiment.   A study in Nottinghamshire schools found that non-smoking children are more likely to be tempted to try smoking if there is a high incidence of smoking among their peers.  The authors suggest that those who smoke exert an influence by making smoking appear “normal” and by not providing discouragement from smoking.    The second study in Denmark provided evidence that teachers’ smoking can independently influence teenagers likelihood of becoming smokers themselves.

Amanda Sandford, Research Manager of ASH said:

“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.

“Nicotine is a highly addictive potent drug but until now there have been few studies to measure the level of addiction in young people. [3]  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.

“These studies emphasise the importance of policies to de-normalise smoking, to make it less appealing to the young.  All schools should adopt smoking polices and ensure that they are enforced. And in the wider community, a ban on tobacco advertising, greater provision of smoke-free areas in public places and sustained campaigns to help people quit smoking are  essential to reduce smoking across all age groups.” 

Notes and Links

[1]  DiFranza JR et al. Development of symptoms of tobacco dependence in youths: 30 month follow up date from the DANDY study.  Tobacco control 2002; 11: 223-235. View abstract:


[2]  Molyneux, A et al.  Is smoking a communicable disease?  Effect of exposure to ever smokers in school tutor groups on the risk of incident smoking in the first year of secondary school.  Tobacco control 2002; 11: 241-245.


Poulsen, LH et al. Exposure to teachers smoking and adolescent smoking behaviour: analysis of cross sectional data from Denmark.  Tobacco Control 2002; 11: 246-251.


[3]  Nicotine addiction in Britain.  Royal College of Physicians. 2000