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Women, Men May Start Smoking for Different Reasons

But genetics is probably to blame for difficulties in quitting, study shows

FRIDAY, June 30, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Social pressure and other environmental factors are more likely to trigger smoking in women, while genetic factors play a larger role in determining whether or not men pick up the habit, U.S. research suggests.

However, the study of thousands of California twins found no difference between men and women in terms of why they had trouble quitting smoking. In that case, genetics seems to be key for both sexes, the University of Southern California researchers said.

"Of those who smoke, it seems that there's a resistance to stopping that has a genetic component," study lead author Ann Hamilton, assistant professor of preventive medicine, Keck School of Medicine, USC, said in a prepared statement.

"The study suggests that society can have the most impact in preventing people from smoking in the first place. It may be possible to modify the stronger genetic effect in men starting smoking with some programs that provide the proper type of peer influence or having a more connected social structure," Hamilton said.

Examples of environmental factors that may influence smoking include peer pressure, social networks, concern about weight gain, and how tobacco is portrayed in the media. Examples of genetic factors include genes that affect nicotine metabolism and/or genes that affect brain sensitivity to nicotine and to components of tobacco smoke.

The findings were published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

Public health education programs can also play an important role in preventing people from starting to smoke, Hamilton noted.

"Because quitting smoking is so difficult for some people, it is more effective to prevent them from becoming addicted smokers in the first place," Hamilton said. Once a person does start to smoke, "the genetic factors that are related to continued smoking are much less able to be affected by interventions," she added.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about smoking prevention.

SOURCE: University of Southern California, news release, June 25, 2006
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