Doctors, psychologists and smoking researchers are urging governments to raise the legal age to buy tobacco to at least 22 after another study found that smokers who start before their 20s become more addicted and find it much harder break the habit
The study, which is being presented today at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Amsterdam, examines the relationship between the age at which smoking begins, nicotine dependence and smoking cessation. It involved 1,382 smokers who had visited a smoking cessation clinic, and the researchers found that those who started smoking very early (before the age of 20) consumed a higher number of cigarettes per day than those who quit. start later and had higher levels of respiratory carbon monoxide. What's more, they saw that early starters were 30% less likely to successfully kick the habit: 46% succeeded versus 56% of late starters.
And they also scored higher on the test to cope with their nicotine dependence, which asks questions such as how long it takes them to smoke their first cigarette after waking up or whether it's hard for them to refrain from smoking in places where it's forbidden , others. Specifically, the scores were 7.5 for those who started at the age of 17 or earlier; of 7.2 for those who started at 18 or 19; of 6.7 for those aged 20-21; and of 6 for those who started smoking after age 22. "Our results show that starting to smoke early is related to greater nicotine dependence, even in young adulthood, and indicate that increasing l "legal age to buy tobacco at 22 years or older could lead to a reduction in the number of people addicted to nicotine and at risk of suffering adverse health consequences", says the author of the study, Dr. Koji Hasegawa, of the Kyoto Medical Center.
Dr. Francisco Pascual, president of Socidrogalcohol (Spanish scientific society for studies on alcoholism and other drug addictions) and member of the board of the National Committee for the Prevention of Smoking (CNPT), assures that the findings of this study corroborate what those who work on addictions already knew happens from a neurobiological point of view: the earlier you start consuming an addictive substance (and tobacco is) the more dependence is created, especially at an early age. "When you start smoking, a neurobiological adaptation to nicotine takes place that causes tolerance and the need to increase the dose, and this creates physical and psychological dependence", he points out.
And this risk of becoming addicted is higher among teenagers. "There are studies that show that the administration of nicotine when the central nervous system is still in the process of maturation increases the risk of becoming addicted to this substance and other drugs because it alters the reward area of the brain, which is more important when we talk about addictions", says the coordinator of the smoking area of the Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery (Separ), Carlos Rábade.
For this reason, both he and Pascual agree with Hasegawa on the need to raise the age to buy tobacco to 22 or more to reduce access to nicotine at an early age. "It is one of the measures that experts in the fight against tobacco defend, because we know that it is effective, that it would work, because most people start smoking very young, when they lack maturity and the perception of risk is very low , whereas if access to tobacco is made difficult until one is more mature to appreciate its negative effects and not succumb to social pressure or messages of freedom linked to smoking, many people would reject it", says Antoni Baena , psychologist and member of the CNPT.
However, both Pascual and Rábade and Baena emphasize that raising the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 22 is just one of the various measures that experts claim to reduce the accessibility of tobacco to younger people. "The prevalence of tobacco use among teenagers is very worrying and does not work with a single measure; a whole package of initiatives must be implemented and for this reason we demand that the Spanish Government reactivate the Comprehensive Smoking Prevention and Control Plan (PIT) agreed by the health and scientific community and that a new anti-tobacco law be promoted", agree the experts consulted .
Of all this package of measures, the most urgent ones stand out as very significantly increasing the price of tobacco, imposing neutral packaging and eliminating any advertising from packages, and extending all the restrictions and controls on the sale and advertising of tobacco to all nicotine products, including e-cigarettes and vapers.
"When we talk about banning consumption at 18 or 22, we're not just talking about tobacco, but about vapers and electronic cigarettes, which escape regulation, but are used to administer nicotine at very early ages, they affect the nervous system central and become the gateway to tobacco addiction", emphasizes Rábade.
At the CNPT, Baena and Pascual recall that the experience of other countries in the area shows that raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco, making it more expensive and imposing plain packaging are effective measures that reduce the number of smokers .