If you, like tens of millions of Americans, have tried cigarettes but have never smoked them regularly, you may be surprised to learn that they're instantly addictive. That, at least, is the gloss the press is putting on a recent study of smoking by Canadian teenagers.
According to The Ottawa Citizen, the study, an analysis of survey data, found that "1 Cigarette Can Get You Hooked." The story begins, "The first puff on a cigarette could be enough to hook a young teenager into addiction, according to new Canadian research." The London Free Press likewise has the researchers discovering that "One Cigarette Can Lead to Addiction."
The Citizen reports:
The young smokers were categorized as triers, who had only smoked once or twice in their lifetime; sporadic smokers, who smoked more than three times in their lifetime, but not monthly, weekly or daily; those who smoked at least once a month; weekly smokers, who smoked more than once a week but not daily; and those who smoked daily.
Boldly contradicting its own headline and lead, the Citizen concedes that "none of the triers demonstrated signs of dependence."
And what, exactly, were these signs of dependence?
The youngsters were queried about their tobacco use and whether they smoked at all, how frequently, and what sorts of feelings and cravings it elicited in them. The questions attempt to draw out whether the smokers are experiencing any symptoms of nicotine dependence, while using language that acknowledges the different smoking behaviour of teenagers.
In other words, the researchers decided that teenagers could be addicted to nicotine even if they didn't smoke every day. Hence it's not surprising that they discovered addiction where less keen observers had seen only occasional smoking.
The fact remains, however, that most teenagers who try cigarettes never become regular smokers. For those who do, you could say the habit began with that first cigarette. But did we really need a taxpayer-funded study to tell us that?
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.