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Nicotine Addiction Shows Early in Youngsters

Kate Traynor

Some seventh and eighth graders report their first symptoms of nicotine addiction long before cigarettes become a daily habit, according to preliminary findings of a study that examines nicotine dependence in young smokers.

The study, which appeared in the September issue of Tobacco Control, found that 63 percent of "monthly" smokers—those who smoked at least two cigarettes during two consecutive 28-day periods—reported symptoms of nicotine dependence. Of these 60 monthly smokers, 16 reported their first symptom within two weeks of smoking that often. Sixty-two percent felt their first symptom before becoming daily cigarette smokers or became daily smokers when the symptoms started.

Students who had smoked daily for two consecutive months at some previous time and students who had smoked one cigarette in any two consecutive months were also classified as monthly smokers. Thus, the 95 monthly smokers included 42 daily smokers and 25 former smokers.

Although 14 percent of the daily smokers reported no symptoms of dependence, another 29 percent of daily smokers reported that they felt at least one symptom before or when they started smoking daily.

The most commonly reported symptom of nicotine dependence was "feeling addicted." Students also said that they felt strong urges to smoke, had problems concentrating, or became restless or irritable when they wanted to smoke but could not.

These findings were the initial report of the Development and Assessment of Nicotine Dependence in Youth (DANDY) study, which is supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute. The 681 children enrolled in this four-year study were selected between January and March of 1998 from 900 seventh graders attending two public school systems in central Massachusetts.

Data for the DANDY study was collected by interviewing each study participant three times during the school year. The findings discussed here were based on data collected in 1998. The study design calls for data collection for a total of four years.

During the first interview, when the boys and girls were 12 to 15 years old, 30 percent of the study participants had reported using tobacco at least once.

Fifty-five students, most of whom had moved from area, could not be interviewed three times, as the study required. Despite this, the overall number of seventh and eighth graders who started smoking or increased their use of tobacco products increased during the year. Compared with baseline, 58 additional students reported trying a tobacco product, 43 more had puffed on a cigarette, and 39 more had inhaled cigarette smoke.

According to the authors, initial data from the DANDY study contradicts the claim that nicotine dependence requires frequent, heavy use of tobacco products.