teenage girl smoking

New Threat for Those With Teenage Smoking Habit

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.


Smoking cigarettes is a rite of passage for many teenagers, but can have serious consequences for some. New research indicates people who develop a teenage smoking habit can become hooked for life if they have a certain genetic profile for nicotine addiction. The genes that get them hooked on tobacco also make it harder for them to quit as adults.

The study looked at the effects of nicotine on over 1000 men and women, starting at age 11 and continuing until they were 38 years old. Researchers followed the participants to learn when they first tried smoking, how soon after did they became daily smokers, when did they advance to being heavy smokers, did they became nicotine dependent, and what happened when tried to quit. The findings were published online in JAMA Psychiatry on March 27, 2013

Why It’s Harder For Some People to Quit Smoking Than Others

The data collected showed those with the higher genetic risk profile were:

  • not more likely to initiate smoking as teens than those without the genome
  • more likely to convert to daily smokers as teenagers
  • more likely to be smoking a pack a day by age 18
  • going to make a more rapid progression from smoking initiation to heavy smoking
  • more likely to develop nicotine dependence
  • going to smoke almost 7,300 more cigarettes than the average smoker by the time they were 38
  • more likely to fail at smoking cessation
  • going to have a higher predictability of smoking using than family history
  • not more likely to become heavy smokers if they began smoking as adults rather than as teens

Know Your Risk Before You Start

The researchers concluded that there is a “vulnerable” period during the teen years for those who have this genetic profile that makes them more susceptible to the effects of nicotine. Finding a way to identify these individuals and intervene before they take that first puff on a cigarette may be the public health success story of the 21st century.

Take a Walk While Trying to Quit

For teens who already have a smoking habit, taking a 20 minute walk several times a week while participating in the American Lung Association’s Not-On-Tobacco program may help them quit, says a study published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study involved 233 teenagers between the ages of 14-19 in West Virginia who reported smoking at least one cigarette in the past 30 days. They were randomly assigned to one of three groups: Brief intervention (10-15 minutes of advice about the harmful effects of smoking); participation in the Not-On-Tobacco program (N-O-T); or N-O-T plus physical activity (N-O-T+FIT).

The results supported the benefits of more physical activity for all three groups, but the best results were seen with N-O-T+FIT combination. They also found:

  • teens in all 3 groups who increased the number of days in which they had at least 20 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity were more likely to significantly reduce their total number of daily cigarettes
  • teens in the N-O-T+FIT group who increased the number of days in which they exercised for 20 minutes or more were the most likely to reduce their cigarette usage
  • teens in N-O-T+FIT who exercised 30 minutes or more were more likely to quit smoking than those who similarly increased their physical activity in the other two groups
  • in all 3 groups, being active 30 minutes per day did not require a moderate-to-vigorous level to count

Getting Healthy One Step At A Time

The researchers could not tell why the exercise helped the kids reduce their smoking, but did say one healthy behavior often encourages others. They also said that even if a teen doesn’t reduce their smoking, the exercise is still good for their health.

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