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Lifetime smoking and other tobacco use almost always begins by the time kids graduate from high
Young kids’ naïve experimentation frequently develops into regular smoking, which typically
turns into a strong addiction – well before the age of 18 – that can overpower the most well-intentioned
efforts to quit.
Accordingly, any efforts to decrease future smoking levels among high school students,
college-aged youths, or adults need to include a focus on reducing experimentation and regular smoking
among teenagers and even pre-teens, as well.
Delaying the age when kids first experiment with
cigarettes or first begin smoking can also reduce the risk that they become regular or daily smokers and
increase their chances of successfully quitting if they do begin regular smoking.
How Early Do Kids Try Smoking?
Very little data about smoking is regularly collected for kids under 12, but the peak years for first trying to
smoke appear to be in the sixth and seventh grades, or between the ages of 11 and 13, with a
considerable number starting even earlier.
For example, in a nationwide
Monitoring the Future
8.8 percent of eighth grade students reported having first smoked by the fifth grade (ages 10 and 11), and
22.3 percent of eighth graders tried smoking by the eighth grade.
Two out of three 12th-graders who
were current smokers had started smoking by the end of ninth grade.
A survey of 1,663 fifth grade students in Washington State found that 30 percent of the 10- and 11-year-
olds had already tried at least one cigarette, with a little less than 10 percent having tried at least two.
Similarly, a 1992 survey of 10- to 17-year-old smokers in Massachusetts found that they tried their first
cigarette, on average, at age 12.
In 2007, a nationwide survey of high school students found that 14.2
percent had smoked at least one entire cigarette before age 13, with more ninth-graders (16.3 percent)
having smoked a full cigarette than 12th-graders (13.3 percent).
By the end of high school, 43.6 percent
of all kids have tried smoking.
How Soon Do Kids Become Regular, Daily Smokers?
More than a third of all kids who ever try smoking a cigarette become regular, daily smokers before
leaving high school.
In fact, the addiction rate for smoking (the percentage of experimenters who
ultimately become habitual users) is higher than the addiction rates for marijuana, alcohol, or cocaine.
Moreover, a September 2000 study found that symptoms of addiction – strong urges to smoke, anxiety or
irritability, or unsuccessfully quit attempts – can appear in young kids within weeks or only days after
occasional smoking first begins, and well before daily smoking has even started.