Drug Policy

Instantly Irresistible, Except When It Isn't

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The latest instantly addictive drug may surprise you, especially if, like most Americans, you have tried it. "Just One Cigarette Can Lead to Addiction," the CBC reports, based on a study in which researchers interviewed 1,200 sixth-graders. "Among the 217 inhalers, 127 lost autonomy over their tobacco use, 10% having done so within 2 days and 25% having done so within 30 days of first inhaling from a cigarette," they report in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. "The most susceptible youths lose autonomy over tobacco within a day or 2 of first inhaling from a cigarette."

The researchers measured "lost autonomy" with the Hooked on Nicotine Checklist, which asks smokers about unsuccessful efforts to quit, feelings of addiction, cravings, and withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating. These criteria are highly subjective, and I'm not sure how reliable an 11-year-old's answers to such questions are. At that age, kids may exaggerate their attachment to cigarettes because they associate addiction with adulthood. In any case, the results indicate, contrary to the headlines inspired by the study, that for most smokers the addiction process is gradual. Another point obscured by the study is that most people who try cigarettes either never become addicted or eventually quit. About two-thirds of American adults have smoked cigarettes, while only a fifth are current smokers.

[Thanks to Taylor Buley for the tip.]

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  1. withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating

    So, as a ten-year-old, I was already going to through nicotine withdrawal 4 years before I tried a cigarette? Wow, that is a powerful drug.

  2. I’m sorry, but this is absolutely ridiculous. How does a 6th grader “lose autonomy over their tobacco use?” Where would they acquire these cigarettes? With what money? If they don’t have perpetual access to something, how can you possibly become addicted to it?

  3. I’ve lost autonomy over pickles.
    Somebody help me.

  4. withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating

    So, as a ten-year-old, I was already going to through nicotine withdrawal 4 years before I tried a cigarette? Wow, that is a powerful drug.

    It sure is. I’m experiencing withdrawal symptoms now and I have smoked a cigarette in the last fifteen years. I guess I became addicted those three or four times I smoked cigarettes when I was in high school.

  5. Where was this research published? The latest issue of Really Bad Science?

  6. I guess “choice” once again trumps the welfare of our children.

  7. Maybe the childrenw ould be better off if researchers weren’t plying them with cigarettes just so they’ll fill out a few questionaires.

  8. New street drug – xOxi-Genx

    I can’t even remember the first time I tried xOxi-Genx – the sweet clean taste, that exhilarating rush… man, I don’t think I could live without it, even if I wanted to.

  9. I smoked for a summer when I was 15. Why? I saw a really neato ad with a smoking cartoon camel in it. The fact that my hoodlum friends smoked and were constantly urging me to do the same had nothing to do with it.

    I smoked Marlboro (what else for a 15 year old?). While I liked the look and smoked about a half-pack/day, I pretty much hated it. I quit cold turkey and never had the urge to do so again.

    I must be some kind of freak.

  10. Like a dumbass I smoked a cigarette when I was 16. I got sick to my stomach, and I will never ever smoke tobacco again. I don’t know how smokers get past the sickness it induces the first time.

  11. The earlier comment was a spoof, btw, so this will be the final post where I use this handle.

    Anyway, I think this post, as well as much of Mr. Sullum’s writings on drug usage, kind of hurts the cause. Here’s a study, performed by experts in the field, that suggests that cigarettes are instantly addictive at least to some small percentage of the population. This should surprise nobody, but yet Sullum combines a blithe dismissal of the methodology (“you just can’t trust kids to be honest”) with a strange twisting of the conclusions (“see, this proves that not everybody finds cigarettes to be addictive”). It’s unclear that Sullum has even read the study or has any sort of understanding about how it was conducted, beyond “it must be wrong because I don’t like the results”.

  12. Cesar –
    Are you sure that was a legal cigarette you were smoking? Not one of those fancy ones with the tapered edges?

  13. Cesar –
    Are you sure that was a legal cigarette you were smoking? Not one of those fancy ones with the tapered edges?

    Nah, it was a Newport.

  14. Forget nicotine, I got addicted to aspirin much faster. I took it the first time for a headache, and the next time I got a headache, I found myself jonesing for an aspirin. I couldn’t help myself.

    Aside from silliness, my point is that nicotine is a very effective psychoactive drug. Asserting that these kids are almost instantly addicted can be an ignorant way of noticing that these kids felt immediate relief from the neurotransmitter boost that nicotine provides. Just ask someone who starts taking Wellbutrin how easy nicotine is to quit once you replace it with a comparable (and arguably less safe) drug.

    If you want to call a life enhancing drug an addiction, don’t forget to include aspirin among your contraband.


  15. Nah, it was a Newport.

    Menthols?? Holy f***! On your first try? No wonder you got sick!

  16. This from wikipedia on Newports:

    Newport cigarettes are known to smokers for their intensity (high nicotine and tar content). They have the highest nicotine and tar content of all cigarette brands

    Ugh…I almost get sick just remembering the days when I did smoke Newports non-stop.

  17. Dan T.,

    I appreciate your skepticism here, but the checklist they used seems unlikely to measure much 2 days after your first cigarette.

    “Loss of autonomy over tobacco as measured by the Hooked on Nicotine Checklist, and tobacco dependence as defined in International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision (ICD-10).”

    For a look at the reliability of their measures.
    http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/11/4/354

  18. jimmydageek-

    Yeah, I went to a pretty shitty public high school. Thats all anyone smoked there, Newports. And maybe Salems.

  19. Salems not so bad compared to Newports…not as harsh if I recall correctly.

    But yea, if every first time smoker went with Newports for the first puff we’d probably see less addiction and more people wanting to stay away from the stuff.

  20. The earlier comment was a spoof, btw, so this will be the final post where I use this handle.

    We really don’t care.

  21. You know, you think the tobacco companies would be searching for a “clean” delivery system for tobacco they could market as an alternative to cigarettes. I wonder why the federal government doesn’t encourage them to do that.

  22. Where I work, public health types tell children that 50 thousand people a year die from second-hand smoke in America.
    I’ve asked them if they really believe that this number is accurate and the responses I got led me to believe that the accuracy of the number was not anything they cared too much about. I expected a fight, but mostly what I got was shoulder shrugging.

  23. Judging by their checklist, did they screen out the kids with ADHD before conducting the test?

    Alternately, I guess I could say that I’m suffering from nicotine withdrawal as I’m generally irritable, restless, and have trouble concentrating.

    I guess that cigarette I had three years ago must have been a doozy.

  24. it seems to me that any diagnosis of addiction is pretty subjective. what does it mean?

  25. irritability, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating

    My girlfriend loses autonomy over tobacco every month and she doesn’t even smoke. Man, that’s some powerful stuff.

  26. “If they don’t have perpetual access to something, how can you possibly become addicted to it?”

    One’s ability to become dependent on a drug is not hinged on their ability to obtain more of it. In fact, that situation is one reason our crime rate is so high.

  27. Did you know that 100% of cigarette smokers started by taking a first drag? It’s a frightening figure.

  28. And 10 out of every 10 people will die at some point in the future?

  29. One’s ability to become dependent on a drug is not hinged on their ability to obtain more of it. In fact, that situation is one reason our crime rate is so high.

    You say it’s not hinged on their ability to obtain more of it, but then you explain how they manage to obtain more of it. What I want to know is how your average 6th grader is going to obtain significant amounts of cigarettes… enough to become addicted to the point of no return.

  30. I’ve tried most of the drugs that were available in the 80’s. Marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, opium, LSD, mushrooms and a few others. But the only one I ever had trouble with was cigarettes. Those little coffin nails had their hooks deep in my flesh. But the idea that I “lost autonomy” is total bullshit. Indeed one of the things that makes them so habit forming, is that one doesn’t become less functional as the habit increases.

    I gave them up because 1) they are totally disgusting and 2) they became expensive. But it took me three months before I had a day without a craving.

    I still miss them. If I’m ever diagnosed with a fatal disease, the first thing I’m going to do is buy a pack of Marlboro Reds.

    Oh and that check list is BS too, half of it is the same question reworded.

  31. I tried smoking out of curiosity. It had no discernable effect, other than inducing a mild dizziness and nausea (which I could have got from any kind of smoke). Yeah, real addictive.

  32. Addictiveness has been tied to the quantity of nicotine aerated and carried into the lungs. This was part of the argument against “Big Tobacco” …that they were adding nicotine to cigs to make them more addictive.

    While Newports might be high, no cig on the market can beat American Spirits for raw unfettered tobacco loveliness and potency. Had BigT just removed the fillers, and added more tobacco they’d have achieved the same net effect. (Cost probably a factor.)

    When will the disparity in our nation’s drug laws be challenged and the unequal punishment meted upon smokers and levied not at all against their snuff sniffing counterparts brought to an end?

  33. “Autonomy” is the code word used by medical ethicists as a substitute for liberty when they want to deny liberty.

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