Passive smoke link to cigarette addiction

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The noxious effect of the first cigarette may play a key role in determining whether children take up smoking, scientists report today.

The noxious effect of the first cigarette may play a key role in determining whether children take up smoking, scientists report today.

Nausea, dizziness and fainting are common reactions to the first cigarette but researchers in America have discovered that children who breathe other people's smoke become desensitised and less likely to suffer the strong reaction that may deter them from taking up the habit.

A separate study in Britain shows passive smoking among children aged 11 to 15 has almost halved since the late Eighties,because of a fall in the percentage of parents who smoke and to reduced smoking in public places. Children of parents who smoked showed no reduction in exposure, suggesting that whatever efforts parents may be making not to smoke in front of their children are failing to have the desired effect.

The unpleasant effect of the first cigarette may be enough to dissuade children from taking up the habit. Passive smoking in childhood may therefore encourage smoking by reducing its initial impact. Conversely, an effective way of preventing children taking up smoking may be to ensure they breathe clean air.

The researchers, from the University of Illinois in Chicago, studied 17,000 high school students and found the tougher the restrictions on smoking they endured, both at home and outside, the less likely they were to smoke. Writing in the British Medical Journal, they say that one explanation may be that exposure to passive smoking in childhood reduces the "noxious deterrence" of the first cigarette. DJ Taylor

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