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The younger a person starts smoking, the greater the lifelong risk of developing smoking-related cancers. That is because young smokers are more likely to become addicted, and the more years a person smokes, the greater the risk of cancer.
Average age of first use of cigarettes, based on responses from people aged 12–17 and 18–25 who said they had initiated smoking during the past 12 months.
Age 12–17: Rising slightly from 2002–2008 (data shown only for this period given change in methodology).
There is no change in trend by race/ethnicity, by gender, or by poverty level.
In 2008, the average age at first use among those aged 12–17 years was 15.1 years. Among those aged 18–25 years, the average age of first use was 18.9 years.
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Overall, Blacks have lower smoking initiation rates during adolescence than Whites and Hispanics. Blacks begin regular smoking primarily after the age of 18. Hispanics have an earlier onset of cigarette smoking than Asians/Pacific Islanders and Blacks, while they have a higher but similar age of initiation compared with Whites.
Young people who come from low-income families or families with less education are more likely to smoke. So are those who have less success and involvement in school and fewer skills to resist the pervasive pressures to use tobacco. Tendencies to take risks and rebel are among the other risk factors for beginning smoking.
Most smokers try their first cigarette before the age of 18 and become addicted during adolescence. Studies of smokers have indicated that the younger the age of smoking initiation, the greater the risk for development of nicotine dependence. Efforts to help young people delay or, even better, avoid smoking should help to prevent many cancers.
A study examining high school graduates one year after graduation found that, among those who were “never smokers” in 12th grade, 25 percent had begun smoking. Among 12th grade smokers, 39 percent had increased their cigarette use. Efforts to reduce smoking among adolescents should be extended to young adults because smoking initiation extends into young adulthood. Particular attention needs to be paid to those young adults not enrolled in college since they have the higher smoking rates compared to those enrolled in college.