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Some smokers can blame their genes

November 17, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Many people struggle with nicotine addiction; a new study says there may be a genetic component to the problem.
Many people struggle with nicotine addiction; a new study says there may… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Smokers who have repeatedly tried to quit and failed over the years probably have genes that make it extra hard to overcome the addiction, the authors of a new study say.

Thursday marks the 36th annual Great American Smokeout. To be sure, the dire health consequences of smoking are well-known, and many adults have quit over the past four decades. But some individuals have great difficulty quitting. The new study, by researchers at the University of Colorado, examined adult twins to look for a genetic influence in tobacco addiction.

The study, of 596 twin pairs, showed that adult identical twins (who share the same genes) are much more likely to quit smoking at the same time compared with fraternal twins (who do not have the same gene structure). Among identical twins, 65% of twins quit during a two-year time frame compared to 55% of fraternal twins. That suggests a genetic component, a co-author of the study, sociologist Fred Pampel, said in a news release.

"These days people don't smoke for social reasons," he said. "They, in fact, face criticism for the habit but tend to smoke because of their dependence on nicotine."

While laws that ban smoking in public places have put pressure on people to quit, that's probably not enough for some smokers, he said.

Anti-smoking laws and policies "may be effective in prodding social smokers with genetic resilience to quit but may do less to help genetically vulnerable smokers quit."

The article will appear this month in the journal Demography. Information on smoking cessation can be found at the American Cancer Society's smokeout page.
 
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