Seattle PI
by Seth Borenstein, AP

Addicted at first puff?
Genes tied to cigarette addiction

WASHINGTON — Scientists have pinpointed genetic variations that make people more likely to get hooked on cigarettes and more prone to develop lung cancer, a finding that could lead to screening tests and customized treatments for smokers trying to kick the habit.

The discovery by three separate teams of scientists makes the strongest case so far for the biological underpinnings of nicotine addiction and sheds more light on how genetics and lifestyle habits join forces to cause cancer.

“This is kind of a double-whammy gene,” said Christopher Amos, a professor of epidemiology at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and author of one of the studies. “It also makes you more likely to be dependent on smoking and less likely to quit smoking.”

A smoker who inherits these genetic variations from both parents has an 80 percent greater chance of lung cancer than a smoker without the variants, the researchers reported. That same smoker on average lights up two extra cigarettes a day and has a much harder time quitting than smokers who don’t have these genetic differences.

The gene variations, which govern nicotine receptors on cells, could help explain some of the mysteries of chain smoking, nicotine addiction and lung cancer. These oddities include why there are 90-year-old smokers who don’t get cancer and people who light up an occasional cigarette and don’t get hooked.

“This is really telling us that the vulnerability to smoking and how much you smoke is clearly biologically based,” said professor Dr. Laura Bierut of Washington University in St. Louis, a genetics and smoking expert who did not take part in the studies. The smoking rate among U.S. adults has dropped from 42 percent in 1965 to less than 21 percent.

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