Teen smokers less likely to give up habit as adults

Research shows that it is harder to give up smoking if you start when you are youngNew research reveals that those who start smoking as children or adolescents are less likely to give up the habit as adults.

Data shows that the younger you start smoking, the harder it becomes to quit by the time you reach your 40s.

It found that the amount of participants who smoked daily during their 20s was:

  • 8% for those who first smoked aged 18-19
  • 33% for those who first smoked aged 15-17
  • 48% for those who first smoked aged 13-14
  • 50% for those who first smoked aged 6-12

Additionally, even children who smoked at a very low level – for example, tried a few cigarettes – were more likely to end up as a daily smoker in adulthood.

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the study used information collected from children and adolescents in the 1970s and 1980s. These were then recontacted – some as recently as 2018.

Researchers looked at the smoking information of more than 6,600 people between the ages of six and 19 from Finland, Australia and the US. Participants were tracked from childhood into middle age.

Seeds in childhood

The study also found that only 2.6% of those who started smoking for the first time after their 20s still smoked in their 40s.

David Jacobs Jr., was the lead author of the study and the Mayo Professor of public health in the division of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota.

He said: ‘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.

‘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.’

Coronavirus risk

This comes as smokers are warned that they are more at risk during the coronavirus crisis.

Last month, Professor Chris Whitty suggested now might be a good time to give up smoking. 

Answering questions from MPs, he said: ‘For most respiratory infections, you worry about people who smoke a bit more.

‘They’re more likely to get it and their immune system isn’t as good. If you are going to give up smoking, this is a very good moment to do it.

‘But it’s not that I’m saying they should self-isolate or behave in any other way differently.’