In fact, the scientists actually encountered a paradox through their findings: Novice smokers, who seem to begin experimenting at the age of 12, continue to escalate their tobacco use while at the same time making several unsuccessful attempts to stop.
"Kids begin to think about quitting very soon after their first puffs," said lead author Jennifer O'Loughlin, a researcher with the department of social and preventive medicine at the University of Montreal.
In this five-year study, 319 Montreal teenagers were given questionnaires on their smoking habits every three months. The researchers found that the first serious attempt to quit smoking came just two and a half months after the first puff.
The habit to smoke progressed rapidly, with teens taking about nine months to develop a monthly smoking habit, and almost two years to need daily nicotine hits.
With increased cravings, withdrawal symptoms and tolerance, novice smokers began to lose confidence in their ability to quit. After two years, many had discovered that breaking the habit was not so easy.
During the study, more than 70 percent of the teens wanted to quit, but only 19 percent actually managed to stop smoking for at least a year.
"There was evidence to suggest that kids who smoke do want to quit, but the fact that there were so many serious quit attempts two months after initiation is eye opening," said Geri Dino, director of the Prevention Research Center in the Department of Community Medicine at West Virginia University.
She said that one interesting finding was that four years after taking up smoking, 32 percent were still unaware of how hard it is to quit.
"It's taking these kids a while to realize this is a tough thing," she said.
According to O'Loughlin, the study indicates many milestones in the process of becoming addicted to tobacco. And if one understands the steps that lead to addiction, it is possible to uncover critical periods when kids might be most open to education and support.
"I think there's a narrow window of opportunity in there before full-blown addiction that we're not taking into account in our prevention and cessation interventions aimed at kids," said O'Loughlin.
The study would appear in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.