Sep. 11 2000
Washington, DC — The September 2000 issue of the journal Tobacco Control includes a study on adolescent nicotine addiction demonstrating that nicotine is a powerful drug that addicts children much more rapidly than previously assumed. The NIH-funded study of 681 seventh grade students in Massachusetts shows that some adolescents who try smoking become addicted even before they become daily smokers. It is an important reminder that we must redouble our efforts to protect children from tobacco and hold the tobacco companies accountable for decades of lying about the addictive properties of nicotine, while marketing cigarettes so effectively to kids. Far from being a benign rite of passage for teens, smoking can be highly addictive at a very early stage and lead to a lifetime of health problems and premature death.
According to lead researcher Joseph R. DiFranza, MD, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the study shows that young occasional smokers suffered the same symptoms of nicotine withdrawal as adults who smoked heavily and tried to quit. The study found that nearly one-quarter of the youths who had smoked as infrequently as once a month reported symptoms of nicotine addiction within weeks of beginning monthly smoking. Almost two-thirds of the youths who smoked more than once a month reported symptoms of nicotine addiction.
It is a sad irony that while nicotine acts so quickly, federal and state legislators have acted so slowly to protect kids from tobacco. Rather than seeking to grant special legal protection to the tobacco companies, Congress should support the Department of Justice lawsuit against the tobacco companies, which will hold Big Tobacco accountable for deceiving the public about its products and costing American taxpayers billions in tobacco-related health care expenses. Congress should also grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration full authority to regulate the manufacture, marketing, and sale of tobacco products.
This study also shows why states should spend tobacco settlement funds on comprehensive tobacco prevention programs. Aggressive counter-marketing, school and community-based education programs, cessation programs, and tough enforcement of youth access laws will keep kids away from the dangers of smoking and addiction. States such as Florida and Massachusetts have shown that such programs work. All states should act to protect their kids from tobacco.