Medical scientist, Joseph R DiFranza has spent the last ten years investigating nicotine addiction in new smokers.
He has found it normally takes very little experience of nicotine - in many cases as little as ONE cigarette - to change the brain, so that it stimulates the craving to smoke.
The survey followed 679 seventh graders - children about 11 years old - and tracked them for two and a half years, giving eight interviews during that time. By tracking their answers to a ten-question quiz that Dr. DiFranza developed - the Hooked on Nicotine Checklist - the researchers were able to see if the adolescents were addicted, and how long it took for their addiction to take root.
The checklist includes questions like -
*Do you ever have strong cravings to smoke?
*Do you smoke now because it is really hard to stop?
Any young person who answered yes to any of the ten questions was found to be 29 times more likely to fail if they were to try and quit. Also, those who answered yes were 44 times more likely to be smoking at the end of the study period, and 58 more times likely to have gone to smoking every day.
On average, the teenagers were only smoking two cigarettes a week when the first addiction symptoms appeared.
And, of these teenagers who experience addiction to smoking, 10% do so within two days of their first cigarette, and 25 - 35% show signs within a month.
The data completely upset conventional wisdom.
"We were quite shocked ourselves," Dr. DiFranza commented, "We thought that with the kids who were developing symptoms so quickly, we were going to the extreme examples. The opposite turned out to be true - kids that were developing symptoms of addiction within a few weeks of starting smoking were the rule rather than the exception.
Of all the adolescents who reported some symptoms of addiction, one third were only smoking once a month, and half were smoking once a week."
Even occasional teenage smokers can have the same symptoms of nicotine withdrawal that prompt adult smokers to light up again and again. "Some kids experience withdrawal symptoms earlier than others."
Once children start smoking, many rapidly lose autonomy over their behavior. They lose their freedom.
Studies of adolescent smokers show that symptoms of addiction, such as withdrawal, craving for cigarettes and failed attempts at quitting, can appear within the first weeks of smoking. Among the 217 inhalers, half had lost their freedom by the time they were smoking 7 cigarettes per month.
"They experienced withdrawal symptoms, which some rated as unbearable," DiFranza reported.
"Amazingly, in the early stages of addiction a single cigarette can suppress withdrawal symptoms for weeks, even though the nicotine has gone from the body in a day."
In other words, the impact of nicotine far outlasts its presence in the brain.
Factors that predicted addiction were an adventurous, novelty-seeking personality, a depressed mood, and familiarity with the cigarette advertising character Joe Camel.
Dr DiFranza's work has been confirmed by a dozen other studies in the last few years.
Peter Gray smoked over 30 cigarettes a day for nearly twenty years. Now he doesn't. Finishwithsmoking.com is a site dedicated to everyone who still thinks that it's difficult to quit smoking. It isn't. All you need is your mind in the right place. While researching for the site, he took a gamble and tried to smoke a cigarette. Couldn't get past the first puff.
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