Young smokers have a harder time quitting as adults. According to new research published by the American Heart Association, adults who started smoking in their adolescent or teen years have a much harder time kicking the habit. Smoking cigarettes early in life increases the odds of smoking daily into adulthood and beyond the age of 40.
The study is unprecedented in that data collected from young smokers in the 1970’s and 80’s was followed up on as recently as 2018. Dr. David Jacobs is the lead author of the study and a professor of Public Health at the University of Minnesota.
“Based on our data coupled with a variety of other evidence, we found childhood smoking leads to adult smoking,” said Dr. Jacobs. “Cigarette smoking, even experimentally, among children of any age should be strongly discouraged.”
The investigation was focused on more than 6,600 individuals between the ages of six and 19 from Finland, Australia, and the United States. As part of the International Childhood Cardiovascular Cohort Consortium, the participants were followed up with during their 20s and 40s.
The study revealed that people who began smoking at early ages were daily smokers in their 20s and were much less likely to quit smoking by their 40s. Even children who barely experimented with cigarettes were prone to developing a consistent smoking habit that lasted for decades.
The frequency of childhood smoking was found to be similar across Finland, Australia, and the United States.
“Even in low income and developing countries, the societal reinforcement of smoking, the basic addictive qualities of nicotine, and the maturation of children and children’s judgment through adolescence are universal,” said Dr. Jacobs. “As children mature through adolescence, they may have developed a better ability to resist impulses and to reject social pressures.
“Cigarette smoking is an avoidable health risk, and its seeds are in childhood. These results strongly support Tobacco 21, a national movement to restrict all sales of tobacco products to people under age 21. The American Heart Association is an advocate of Tobacco 21.”
Dr. Rose Marie Robertson is the co-principal investigator of the American Heart Association’s Tobacco Center for Regulatory Science.
“This is a very important study, both because it has data from multiple countries and because it has been able to follow individuals into middle age, a critical observation. It re-emphasizes the importance of keeping tobacco products out of the hands of children before age 21 to prevent long-term addiction,” said Dr. Robertson.
“Vaping products had not been introduced at the time these study participants were teens, but it is plausible that the findings may relate to vaping as well, since both addiction to nicotine and the adverse effects of nicotine on the developing brain in youth are relevant to these nicotine delivery devices as well.”
The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.