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Researchers Find That Children Are Easily Addicted to Cigarettes

Aired September 12, 2000 - 1:41 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: How long does it take to get hooked on cigarettes? months? maybe even years or decades?

Researchers have found those first few puffs a lot of people take as children can lead to a lifetime of addiction and our medical correspondent Rhonda Rowland has our story on that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These smokers started young.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you've been smoking a pack a day since you were 10?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since you were 10 years old?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My body needs the nicotine. I've been smoking since I was 13.

COHEN: And, a new study shows young smokers have a real physical need for tobacco. Smoking starts as a way to look cool, but then quickly turns into an addiction.

DR. JOSEPH DIFRANZA, UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS MEDICAL SCHOOL: Until now, we thought it took two years for kids to become addicted to nicotine. In the study we find that it's taking just a few weeks.

COHEN: Just a few weeks of smoking just two to three cigarettes a week, according to the study.

DIFRANZA: Nicotine addiction is not a gradual, slow process. It's something that can happen almost instantaneously in children.

COHEN: And study author, Dr. Joseph DiFranza, says cigarettes do much more damage to the young, developing body than to an adult body.

So what can be done? Doctors say techniques to help adults stop smoking, such as the patch or counseling, have not worked well with children and teenagers. Prevention is tough because young people keep smoking even when they know the repercussions. Rebecca started smoking when she was 11.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I just got so addicted. I used to hide. I was, like, in sixth grade. Like going: Is anybody watching me? I can't stop until I die, and maybe I'll die. I'm 21. I'll probably die in another year, if I keep smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

COHEN: So, doctors are still trying to think up ways to fight what's become an uphill battle against a huge public health problem.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATERS: Sorry, Elizabeth, we know Rhonda Rowland is around here somewhere.

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