A disturbing new study of youth smokers finds that it only takes two days from when they first start inhaling cigarettes to become addicted to nicotine.
And, children need only smoke seven cigarettes a month to report symptoms of dependence.
The findings of the study, which looked at the smoking habits of 1,246 sixth-grade Massachusetts public school students, were published in the July issue of The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
The study, conducted by a team of physicians from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, contradicts the belief that long-term smoking is necessary to develop an addiction.
The student volunteers were interviewed 11 times over a four-year period. They also took saliva samples to determine blood levels of nicotine and link them to addictive behavior.
Almost a third of the children smoked a cigarette, more than 17 percent inhaled, and about 7.5 percent used tobacco daily. The researchers limited their analysis to the 217 inhalers in the group.
Most of the youths began inhaling at just under age 13 (average age of 12.8 years), 38 percent developed tobacco dependence, and 70 percent had cravings that were difficult to control before they were smoking every day.
The study's authors urged that teenagers be warned that it might only take "one cigarette to initiate a life-long dependence on tobacco."