Background: Most adult smokers report trying their first cigarette before age 18 years. Understanding the impact of smoking initiation at young ages may help public health policy makers and practitioners improve strategies to prevent or delay adolescent cigarette smoking.
Methods: This paper examined age of initiation of cigarette smoking and subsequent patterns of smoking among U.S. high school students 16 years of age and older (N = 13,858). We used data from the 1991-1997 national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Results: The majority of students 16 years of age and older (60.4%) reported ever having smoked a whole cigarette, and 11.1% initiated smoking at age 10 years or younger. Age of smoking initiation was significantly related to current frequent smoking, daily smoking, and whether students had ever smoked daily. A younger age of smoking initiation was associated with smoking more cigarettes per day than was initiating at an older age.
Conclusions: Delaying the onset of smoking may affect the likelihood of becoming addicted to nicotine and smoking heavily. For students who are already addicted to nicotine, smoking cessation programs are needed.