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Childhood Abuse May Lead To Smoking

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Health experts say three thousand teens start smoking every day, even though they know it can lead to serious health problems. The question researchers are trying to answer is, what leads to smoking? A disturbing study in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association points to a dark corner in many people's lives.

Experts already know cigarette smoking can lead to everything from heart disease to cancer to wrinkles. It’s the number one preventable cause of death in the U-S. Researchers say what they didn't know is many people pick up the habit after experiencing negative events during their childhood. Dr. Robert Anda, a researcher for at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says exposure to childhood abuse in the home may lead to smoking. The findings are published in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers collected data from more than 9,000 adults, most of them in their 50's. Surprisingly, a high number of people reported having at least one adverse experience during their childhood. Researchers found as the number of negative childhood experiences increased, so did the risk of beginning to smoke in the teenage years, being a current smoker and a heavy smoker. "Depression, anxiety and anger all can be alleviated by nicotine,” said Anda.

In addition, health experts think that adolescents who grew up with these experiences may be more susceptible to advertising that promises happiness and well-being. Then when they experiment with cigarettes, nicotine may provide relief from their anguish.

The findings have important implications for smokers who want to quit and for their doctors. Given that nearly two out of three adults reported negative experiences, researchers advise every doctor who counsels smokers about quitting to bring up this very sensitive subject. "The nicotine may serve as a very effective coping device for these people,” said Anda. “They may need a replacement coping device and nicotine replacement and perhaps medication to help them with their emotional problems.”

Researchers say preventing such negative childhood experiences must be a top priority. They say smoking is just one of the many areas of health that suffer enormously because of these experiences.

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