Kids and teens who smoke cigarettes are more likely to light up as adults—even into their 40s—and have a harder time quitting, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association
Also, children and adolescents who smoked the most and who started smoking at younger ages were more likely to smoke daily into adulthood, this international study found.
But while the intensity or amount of early smoking seemed to play an important role, children who smoked very little—just a few cigarettes—had a higher likelihood of becoming a smoker in early and mid-adult life than non-smokers.
The study confirms the relationship between smoking at an early age and long-term daily smoking as an adult, the researchers said. The data also “lend support to preventive strategies designed to reduce, delay, or eliminate any youth access to cigarettes,” they wrote.
The study used data obtained from more than 6,600 people (57% female) in Finland, Australia and the United States who are part of the International Childhood Cardiovascular Cohort Consortium. Because they were recruited in childhood and followed into adulthood, researchers were able to access and analyze smoking information from the 1970s and 1980s when they were between the ages of 6 and 19 and again during their 20s and 40s. Just over half (53%) of children reported smoking at some point during childhood/adolescence and 12.9% said they smoked every day. The frequency of smoking was similar across countries.
The younger someone started smoking in childhood, the greater their risk of continued smoking and the less likely they were to quit by their 40s. Overall, 2,465 of the participants (37%) smoked in their 20s. Data show that the percentage of people who reported smoking every day in their 20s greatly increased by the age when they first started smoking. About half of the participants who reported smoking daily in their 20s had first tried smoking between 6 and 14 years of age, whereas only 8% of those smoking in their 20s first tried smoking between 18 and 19 years of age.
Interestingly, when researchers looked at 386 people who never smoked in childhood or in their 20s, only 10 smoked in their 40s, further indicating there is something about starting smoking in childhood or adolescence that sets the stage for future smoking habits.
The authors state that their findings should prompt extra efforts to “prevent smoking experimentation and/or initiation earlier in the life course given that it appears to be critically related to more unbreakable lifelong smoking patterns.” It is not clear why smokers with an earlier and more-intense smoking history tend to become daily smokers and have a harder time quitting, they said, but it may be due to early exposure to nicotine. This study is limited to individual’s self-report of smoking habits.
While U.S. smoking rates have declined from 40% of 12th graders in 1995 to 10% in 2018, it remains worrisome especially given the growing evidence of the tie to continued smoking later in life. Smoking is a major risk factor for many cardiovascular diseases and can worsen these and many other conditions too.