MONDAY, July 14 (HealthDay News) -- Kids who can get their hands easily on cigarettes -- say from friends or close acquaintances -- are more likely to end up with a regular smoking habit, a new study of sixth-graders finds.
Hopefully, the information will help health care professionals help kids quit before they even start, said the authors of a study in the current issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.
"We found that if you get kids to answer just two simple questions, 'Would it be easy for you to get a cigarette?' and 'Do you have friends who smoke?' you can identify those who are at high risk of becoming regular smokers," said Chyke Doubeni of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, in a school press release. "Saying yes to either should raise a red flag and prompt doctors and others to talk with parents and kids about how to avoid smoking."
In this four-year study, 1,195 Massachusetts sixth-graders who had never smoked or smoked less than once a week, were asked to answer just such questions.
Of 177 students in the sample who picked up a cigarette, 109 ended up as regular smokers.
All of those who had a regular habit at the end of the study agreed with the statement, "It would be easy for me to get a cigarette" or admitted having a friend who smoked, or both.
At the beginning of the study, in 2002, 21 percent of the participants thought cigarettes were easily accessible and only 9 percent had smoking friends.
But by the end of the study, half thought they could get cigarettes easily, and one-third acknowledged having friends who smoked.
Also as kids got older, they could point to stores that sold cigarettes.
"The take home message is clear: Knowing that it is easy to get cigarettes is like adding fuel to the fire when it comes to youth smoking," Doubeni said. "And having a friend who smokes naturally makes cigarettes seem readily available. Ultimately, the kids who reported both peer smokers and easy access were the ones most likely to become regular smokers, compared to those who were exposed to none of those factors."