People can become addicted within days of starting to smoke, according to new research that casts doubt on the belief that the strength of addiction is directly related to the number of cigarettes smoked.

People can become addicted within days of starting to smoke, according to new research that casts doubt on the belief that the strength of addiction is directly related to the number of cigarettes smoked.

In a study of more than 700 children aged 12 and 13, those who had an occasional cigarette showed signs of nicotine addiction. But some of those who smoked up to five a day showed no symptoms of addiction.

The research by the University of Massachusetts, which was published in the medical journal Tobacco Control, put smokers into three categories: "love at first sight" smokers, "gradual addicts", and "chippers" - people who could smoke up to five cigarettes a day over years with no evidence of addiction.

Of the 95 youngsters who admitted to smoking occasionally, monthly, or daily, two-thirds reported nicotine dependence, such as cravings, finding it hard to quit, or feeling irritable if they could not have a cigarette. Two-thirds said they had experienced these feelings before smoking daily. But 14 per cent of the daily smokers denied having those symptoms.

Dr Joseph DiFranza, from the university's department of Family Medicine and Community Health and the study's author, said: "These resultsindicate daily smoking is unlikely to be a prerequisite fornicotine dependence."

Clive Bates, director of the anti-smoking group Ash, said: "The dependence can become apparent in the very early years of smoking. After the glamour of starting smoking subsides, that addiction can be strong enough to propel people into a lifetime habit of smoking."

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