A genetic resistance to smoking cessation?

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You’re aware of all the health risks of smoking, as well as the habit’s impact on your wallet, but you just can’t bring yourself to quit. The answer may lie in your genes.

New research from the Yale University School of Public Health suggests that individuals’ genetics play an important role in whether they respond to tobacco-control policies. The study appears online in the journal PLOS ONE.

According to the research, smoking dropped sharply after the Surgeon General’s landmark report on the dangers of tobacco was published in 1964, but rates have plateaued during the past two decades despite increasingly stringent measures to persuade people to quit. The study found biological evidence that may help explain why some people respond to anti-smoking inducements, such as higher taxes and the expansion of clean-air laws, and why others do not.

“We found that for people who are genetically predisposed to tobacco addiction, higher cigarette taxes were not enough to dissuade them from smoking,” said lead researcher Jason M. Fletcher, associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Yale School of Public Health in a press release. Fletcher, also a former Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar, examined the interplay between state-level tobacco taxation and a nicotinic receptor gene in a cross-section of U.S. adults.

The “gene-policy interaction” study found that variations in the nicotine receptor were linked to the influence of higher taxes on multiple measures of tobacco use. Individuals with a specific genetic variant decreased their tobacco use by nearly 30 percent when facing high tobacco taxes, while individuals with an alternative genetic variant had no response.

Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and is responsible for more than 400,000 deaths each year, according to the study. Tobacco taxation, meanwhile, has been credited with helping to reduce use by more than 50 percent since the Surgeon General’s report.

The paper can be viewed at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0050576. Funding for the study was provided by a seed grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars Program at Columbia University.

Amanda Cuda

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