Oppressed people under attack in the War Against Smokers may have a new defender - science. 

Smokers, unlike alcoholics, don't get much cultural sympathy. California even wants to boost taxes on cigarettes so it can give the money to other states.  That's right, if you smoke in California they will penalize you by helping researchers in North Carolina cure lung cancer.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States. They say smoking (and exposure to secondhand smoke, though that claim lacks any evidence) results in more than 440,000 preventable deaths each year -- about 1 in 5 U.S. deaths overall. Another 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking. Despite the potential health repercussions, over 46 million U.S. adults continue to smoke cigarettes.

But there may be a genetic component that determines whether or not people can quit.

In a paper in the American Journal of Psychiatryresearchers focused on specific variations in a cluster of nicotinic receptor genes, CHRNA5-CHRNA3-CHRNB4, which prior studies have linked to nicotine dependence and heavy smoking. Using data obtained from a previous study, the researchers concluded that individuals carrying the high-risk form of this gene cluster reported a 2-year delay in the median quit age compared to those with the low-risk genes. This delay was attributable to a pattern of heavier smoking among those with the high risk gene cluster.

The researchers then conducted a clinical trial, which confirmed that persons with the high-risk genes were more likely to fail in their quit attempts compared to those with the low-risk genes when treated with placebo. However, medications approved for nicotine cessation (such as nicotine replacement therapies or bupropion) increased the likelihood of abstinence in the high risk groups. Those with the highest risk had a three-fold increase in their odds of being abstinent at the end of active treatment compared to placebo, indicating that these medications may be particularly beneficial for this population. 

She's genetically not perfect because of the smoking, but probably fun to hang out with at the bar.  Credit: ScienceAndSupermodels.com

"We found that the effects of smoking cessation medications depend on a person's genes," said first author Li-Shiun Chen, M.D., of the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis. "If smokers have the risk genes, they don't quit easily on their own and will benefit greatly from the medications. If smokers don't have the risk genes, they are likely to quit successfully without the help of medications such as nicotine replacement or bupropion."

"This study builds on our knowledge of genetic vulnerability to nicotine dependence, and will help us tailor smoking cessation strategies accordingly," said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. "It also highlights the potential value of genetic screening in helping to identify individuals early on and reduce their risk for tobacco addiction and its related negative health consequences."

If smokers are now taboo to insult because of this genetic disposition, there's always a War On Fat People to conduct.