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Study: Genetic Risk Factors Determines Smokers

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File photo of cigarettes. (credit: NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo of cigarettes. (credit: NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

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DURHAM, N.C. (CBS Charlotte) — A new study finds that genetic risk factors can determine who will get hooked on cigarettes.

Researchers at Duke University found that those with a high-risk genetic profile were more likely to become daily smokers as teenagers and then go up to a pack-a-day in adulthood.

“Genetic risk accelerated the development of smoking behavior,” Daniel Belsky, a post-doctoral research fellow at Duke University’s Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development and the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, said in a press release. “Teens at a high genetic risk transitioned quickly from trying cigarettes to becoming regular, heavy smokers.”

Researchers from Duke, the United Kingdom and New Zealand developed a genetic risk profile by examining previous studies and then looked at their own long-term study of 1,000 New Zealanders from birth to age 38 to identify those at high-risk got hooked on cigarettes more quickly as teens and whether the participants had a hard time quitting as adults.

Researchers found that the 38 year olds involved in the study developed a nicotine dependence and had harder times quitting smoking.

The study states that 24 percent of teens with a high-risk genetic profile were more likely to become smokers when they were 15 and would be up to a pack-a-day by the time they turned 18. Adults with high-risk genetic profiles were 27 percent more likely to become nicotine dependent and 22 percent more likely to fail at quitting. Those that were 38 smoked 7,300 more cigarettes than the average smoker.

“Adolescence is indeed a period of high risk for nicotine addiction,” Denise Kandel, a professor of sociomedical sciences in psychiatry at Columbia University, said in the press release. “The results illustrate why adolescence is of crucial importance for the development and targeting of prevention and intervention efforts. How this genetic risk affects brain functions, which in turn affect reactions to nicotine, remains to be determined.”

The participants in the study who did not become heavy smokers in their teens appeared to be “immune” to the genetic risk of becoming an adult smoker.

“The effects of genetic risk seem to be limited to people who start smoking as teens,” Belsky. “This suggests there may be something special about nicotine exposure in the adolescent brain, with respect to these genetic variants.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 443,000 Americans die each year from adverse health effects from smoking.

The study appears in JAMA Psychiatry.

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