Cigarette Taxes, Antidepressants Could Help Teens Quit
> 11/6/2007 12:07:18 PM

The vast majority of smokers start young, at least partially because they're less likely to heed or carefully consider the dire warnings printed on every pack of cigarettes and reinforced by parents, teachers and ad campaigns. The tobacco industry's barely-disputed practice of advertising to underaged teens (but not children, you see) through magazine and convenience store spots also plays a role in ensuring that thousands of 14 and 15-year olds across the country take that first puff every day.

By the time they finish high school, a majority of kids have tried at least one cigarette. What's the appeal? For many, smoking serves as an assertion of independence hinting at maturity, a decision—albeit a terrible one—made of one's own volition. Kids are not blind to the health risks posed by smoking, but the promise of addiction and cancer in 40 or 50 years seems very distant to a 15-year old, and once they've started they, like other smokers, find quitting to be exceedingly difficult. A majority of teen smokers voice a real desire to quit, but only 4% of those who try are able to eliminate tobacco from their lives. While no one can rationally promise a miracle cure, medicine and technology will continue, through miniscule advances, to make the quitting process easier for young smokers than it was for previous generations. New research confirms the previously proposed role of the antidepressant bupropion (commonly sold as Zyban or Welbutrin) as a tepidly effective smoking cessation tool.

The bupropion connection came about when some smokers who'd taken the drug in its original role as antidepressant noticed a decreasing desire for tobacco. Previous studies have noted its potential as a stop-smoking aide, but their patient groups consisted of adult smokers. The new study included more than 300 students aged 14-17 who smoked at least six cigarettes a day and had tried to quit more than once in the past. The teens were divided into three groups, some of whom received varying doses of bupropion. They were then treated and monitored for seven weeks and subsequently interviewed at 12 and 26 weeks. During the initial treatment period, results were overwhelming: only 5.6% of the placebo group had quit smoking after seven weeks. 10.7% of those who took 150mg of bupropion each day and 14.5% of those who took 300mg had stopped. Later results, while still positive, were somewhat less encouraging, as many of the patients resumed their old habits: at 26 weeks, 3.1% of the 150 mg group, 10.3% of the placebo group and 13.9% of the 300 mg group remained smoke-free, according to personal testimony and urine tests. While researchers could not quite explain the strange dip in abstinence among the 150 mg group, substantial daily doses of bupropion do seem to help smokers stay away. Further research will, of course, offer a more complete assessment.

Money also makes a very obvious weapon for deterrence. Teens work with limited financial means, and the act of legally raising cigarette prices, while eliciting grumbles of discontent from thousands of smokers and unwavering free-market advocates, has the potential to discourage teens from buying tobacco. They may very well find other sources for the deadly leaf, but any legislation that could even slightly move tobacco statistics in the right direction should be encouraged. Some states are considering the example set by New Jersey, which voted to approve the nation's highest tax on cigarettes and now boasts the lowest levels of smoking among its middle and high-school students. The nature of this causal relationship remains somewhat vague, but the fact that the tobacco industry spent $10 million dollars attempting to derail similar legislation in the state of Oregon speaks volumes about its efficiency.

On the plus side, we've yet to sink to the lows of the Australian school that has, on physician's recommendation, allowed for an underaged student to take school-approved smoke breaks during the day due to her "clinical addiction" to nicotine. This case is a ridiculous anomaly useful only in illustrating the malevolent influence that tobacco holds over its addicts. Proving addiction in a laboratory should not lead to an institutional allowance of the harmful behaviors that it entails. Many would object if, for example, the school required the student to attend smoking cessation seminars like those in the study mentioned above. But that move would actually make a lot more sense.

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