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Genes May Dictate Teens' Susceptibility to Heavy Smoking
Date:3/27/2013

By Denise Mann
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, March 27 (HealthDay News) -- Ever wonder why some teens who try cigarettes get hooked quickly and others don't? The answer may lie in their genes, according to a new study that spans nearly four decades.

Researchers used data from earlier studies to construct a genetic risk score for heavy smokers. Next, they screened the genes of about 1,000 New Zealanders from birth to age 38 to see whether those with high risk scores got hooked on cigarettes more quickly as teens and whether they had a harder time kicking the habit as adults.

Teens with a high-risk genetic profile who tried smoking were 24 percent more likely to become daily smokers by age 15 and 43 percent more likely to smoke a pack a day by the time they were 18, the study showed.

These high-risk participants were also 27 percent more apt to become hooked on nicotine and 22 percent more likely to fail their quit-smoking attempts as adults, when compared to people with lower scores. Participants with high-risk gene scores had smoked about 7,300 more cigarettes than the average smoker by age 38, the study showed.

The findings appear online March 27 in JAMA Psychiatry.

A person's genetic risk profile did not predict whether they would try cigarettes. About 70 percent of study participants had tried smoking. Those who did try cigarettes and had a high-risk gene score were more likely to become heavy smokers. The risk score was a greater predictor of becoming a smoker than family history, the study showed.

"These genes accelerate the progression of smoking behaviors among adolescents," said study author Daniel Belsky, a postdoctoral research fellow at Duke University's Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development. "Most participants had tried smoking cigarettes when they were around 15, but most did not go on to become heavy smokers," he said.

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