Study Finds Some People Are 'Born To Smoke'

ANN ARBOR---Only about one-third of the teenagers who experiment with tobacco go on to smoke regularly. What makes them different from kids who try a cigarette or two and decide smoking is not for them?

Although social factors such as peer pressure undoubtedly play a role, there is mounting evidence that some people are "destined" to become smokers because they are inherently more sensitive to the effects of nicotine---particularly the pleasurable effects---than people who are not tempted to smoke again.

In a new study, researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School asked female smokers, ex-smokers, and non-smokers about the sensations they felt when they tried smoking the first time. The smokers---especially the heavy smokers---were much more likely to say they experienced pleasurable effects, such as a "buzz" or relaxation.

The research is detailed in a paper to be published in the April issue of the journal Addiction. It was conducted by Ovide Pomerleau, M.S., Ph.D., and colleagues at the Nicotine Research Laboratory in the U-M Behavioral Medicine Program.

These findings have a bearing on the debate over cigarette advertising and teenagers, Pomerleau says, because they suggest one in three kids who sample a cigarette will become lifetime tobacco customers, and vulnerable to tobacco's adverse health effects. For that reason, he says, it's critical to reduce the number of teens who smoke that "first" cigarette.

Previous studies have indicated the propensity to smoke is transmitted genetically, even more so than alcoholism is. The U-M study goes a step further and offers clues about precisely what is being inherited---a tendency to find nicotine pleasurable---and perhaps where gene-hunters should start in their search for "smoking genes."

The study also suggests that someday it may be possible to identify a cluster of characteristics that go hand-in-hand with sensitivity to nicotine, or to develop a test for biological se

Contact: David Wilkins or Pete Barkey
(734) 764-2220
University of Michigan

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