Bet You Can't Smoke Just One

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Michael Siegel notes that several news outlets have added tobacco to the list of instantaneously addictive drugs, along with heroin, crack, and methamphetamine. A study of British teenagers in the current issue of Tobacco Control generated headlines like "1 Cigarette May Hook Teens on Smoking" (Web MD); "One Cigarette Means Three-Year Cravings" (ITV); and "Just One Cigarette in Childhood Can Lead to Later Addiction, Study Says" (The Guardian). What the study actually found was that "students who at age 11 reported having tried smoking cigarettes just once…, but were not smoking at the time, were more likely to take up smoking at a later age than those that had not tried smoking…, even after a gap of up to three years of not smoking." As Siegel points out, there are various possible explanations for that finding that do not involve the sort of immediate-yet-delayed enchantment suggested by the alarming headlines. The same factors that lead a kid to try cigarettes at an early age–e.g., rebelliousness, a sensation-seeking personality, peers who smoke–may also make him more likely to become a regular smoker later on.

Siegel seems puzzled by the inaccurate coverage, saying, "The study itself certainly did not conclude that trying a single cigarette causes addiction that lies dormant for years." True enough, but it's easy to see how reporters got that impression. The title of the paper is "Vulnerability to Smoking After Trying a Single Cigarette Can Lie Dormant for Three Years or More," and the abstract says "preventing children from trying even one cigarette may be important." Given the familiar template of powerful chemicals that instantly enslave anyone foolish enough to try them even once, it would have been surprising if the news media hadn't drawn the conclusion they did.

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  1. Hey, I smoked just one about two or three weeks ago. Just one. Didn’t run out and buy a pack. Didn’t bum another, didn’t even get any guff from the old lady, who actually spotted me ditching the butt. It was the second one this year.

  2. My first cigarette led to a massive coughing fit, as did my second and third. That’s when I opted for the smoother, more satisfying pot. That, of course, led to the horrifying abyss of addiction to every other illicit substance known to man (lousy gateway drug!), but at least I never became a cigarette smoker. I get the feeling that Rob Reiner would be most proud.

  3. Smoke-banning is now officially a religion. And yes, Pope Banzahf scares me too.

  4. How about this: kids who try a cigarette don’t have the “smoking is gross” idea drilled into their heads as well as those who don’t. And people–not kids, *people*–who don’t think smoking is the most disgusting thing you could possibly choose to do are more likely to take up smoking in general.

    Do reporters actually read studies or just the titles?

  5. Michael Siegel notes that several news outlets have added tobacco to the list of instaneously(sic) addictive drugs, along with heroin, crack, and methamphetamine.

    At least there’s still a fair number of folks that recognize how silly it is to call tobacco “instantaneously addictive”. Putting it on the list rectifies the flagrant hypocrisy of leaving it off. Now if we can just get more people to understand that the rest of the list is equally bogus.

  6. instantly addictive. nothing you can do about it. even if you had just one cigarette four years ago and never since, you’re hooked and you don’t know it. See? that’s nicotine withdrawal you’ve been suffering all this time. Now be a good citizen and sue a tobacco company.

  7. I started smoking when I was 15 or 16 and quite when I was maybe 22. Sure, it?s addictive, quitting sucked pretty bad. But I didn?t want to get cancer and die so I sucked it up. Now I smoke occasionally; my wife and I split a pack two or three times a year. Although, it never is as good as I think it?s going to be. I guess the best part of smoking was the satisfaction of quenching the jones.

  8. uh .. quit rather

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