Genetic link to nicotine addiction?

November 26, 2008 10:05:32 AM PST
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say 70 percent of smokers want to quit, but often end up reaching for a cigarette within days. Researchers now say smokers may have sealed their fate for nicotine addiction when they were teens.Brandon Smart has smoked for more than half his life.

"Oh, I've tried to quit three or four times at least," he said. "Mostly New Year's resolutions that don't pan out."

He may have triggered a nicotine addiction when he started smoking at 15.

"If you begin smoking when you're a teenager, you often have higher levels of lifetime dependence," said Dr. Robert Weiss, a human geneticist at the University of Utah.

Dr. Weiss and his team found 60 percent of people have a genetic variance that makes them susceptible to nicotine addiction. Those who started smoking at 16 or younger and had two copies of the variance triggered a lifelong dependence. That's about one of every eight smokers.

The study is proof anti-smoking campaigns need to reach kids as early as elementary school.

"It reconfirms that those who start before get addicted to nicotine more easily than those who start later in life, so if we can get to them when they're young, they won't start when they're older," said David Neville, media coordinator of the Tobacco Prevention and Control program with the Utah Deparment of Health.

Brandon wants the anti-smoking campaign to succeed for two very important reasons.

"I have two children of my own and I'm concerned for them and the genetic link that may be there," he said. "It may be in their genes."

But they can fight it by never picking up a cigarette in the first place.

The American Lung Association says nearly 6,000 children under 18 start smoking every day, and 4.5 million kids are smokers. Now that researchers have established a genetic link between nicotine addiction and teenage smokers, they're working on quitting methods that target genes.

For more information, visit the American Lung Association and the National Institutes of Health.

STORY BY: Medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg


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