A Genetic Epidemiological Mega Analysis of Smoking Initiation in Adolescents

Hermine H Maes, Elizabeth Prom-Wormley, Lindon J Eaves, Soo Hyun Rhee, John K Hewitt, Susan Young, Robin Corley, Matt McGue, William G Iacono, Lisa Legrand, Diana R Samek, E Lenn Murrelle, Judy L Silberg, Donna R Miles, Richard M Schieken, Gaston P Beunen, Martine Thomis, Richard J. Rose, Danielle M. Dick, Dorret I BoomsmaMeike Bartels, Jacqueline M Vink, Paul Lichtenstein, Victoria White, Jaakko Kaprio, Michael C Neale

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Introduction: Previous studies in adolescents were not adequately powered to accurately disentangle genetic and environmental influences on smoking initiation (SI) across adolescence.

Methods: Mega-analysis of pooled genetically informative data on SI was performed, with structural equation modeling, to test equality of prevalence and correlations across cultural backgrounds, and to estimate the significance and effect size of genetic and environmental effects according to the classical twin study, in adolescent male and female twins from same-sex and opposite-sex twin pairs (N = 19 313 pairs) between ages 10 and 19, with 76 358 longitudinal assessments between 1983 and 2007, from 11 population-based twin samples from the United States, Europe, and Australia.

Results: Although prevalences differed between samples, twin correlations did not, suggesting similar etiology of SI across developed countries. The estimate of additive genetic contributions to liability of SI increased from approximately 15% to 45% from ages 13 to 19. Correspondingly, shared environmental factors accounted for a substantial proportion of variance in liability to SI at age 13 (70%) and gradually less by age 19 (40%).

Conclusions: Both additive genetic and shared environmental factors significantly contribute to variance in SI throughout adolescence. The present study, the largest genetic epidemiological study on SI to date, found consistent results across 11 studies for the etiology of SI. Environmental factors, especially those shared by siblings in a family, primarily influence SI variance in early adolescence, while an increasing role of genetic factors is seen at later ages, which has important implications for prevention strategies.

Implications: This is the first study to find evidence of genetic factors in liability to SI at ages as young as 12. It also shows the strongest evidence to date for decay of effects of the shared environment from early adolescence to young adulthood. We found remarkable consistency of twin correlations across studies reflecting similar etiology of liability to initiate smoking across different cultures and time periods. Thus familial factors strongly contribute to individual differences in who starts to smoke with a gradual increase in the impact of genetic factors and a corresponding decrease in that of the shared environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-409
Number of pages9
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • Journal Article

Cohort Studies

  • Netherlands Twin Register (NTR)


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