A man smoking a cigarette outside of a building.

Kids or teen smokers are less likely to kick the habit as adults

Charlie Plain | April 8, 2020

A new international study with School of Public Health (SPH) researchers found that the younger people start smoking, the more likely they are to smoke daily as an adult — even into their 40s — and the harder it will be to quit. Their findings were recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association

David Jacobs smiling
Professor David Jacobs

Researchers analyzed smoking information on more than 6,600 people (57% female) between the ages of 6-19 and during their 20s and 40s, from Finland, Australia and the United States. Participants were followed from childhood into middle age as part of the International Childhood Cardiovascular Cohort Consortium. 

The study analysis found:

  • adolescents who smoked the most and children who started smoking at younger ages were more likely to be daily smokers in their 20s and were less likely to quit smoking by their 40s;
  • even children who only tried smoking at a very minimal level – a few cigarettes – were more likely to end up as a daily adult smoker;
  • the percentage of participants who smoked daily during their 20s was 8% for those who first tried smoking at age 18-19; 33% for those who first tried smoking at age 15-17; 48% for those who first tried smoking at age 13-14; and 50% for those who first tried smoking during ages 6-12;
  • only 2.6% of participants who took up smoking for the first time after their 20s smoked in their 40s;
  • the frequency of smoking in childhood and adolescence was similar in Finland, Australia and the United States.

“Based on our data coupled with a variety of other evidence, we found childhood smoking leads to adult smoking,” says David Jacobs, lead study author and SPH professor. ”Cigarette smoking, even experimentally, among children of any age should be strongly discouraged.”

Although the current study was conducted in three developed nations, the researchers believe that the results likely apply more broadly. 

“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,” says Jacobs. “As children mature through adolescence, they may have developed a better ability to resist impulses and to reject social pressures. These results strongly support Tobacco 21, a national movement to restrict all sales of tobacco products to people under age 21.”

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