Parents May Pass Down Bad Habits

Parent smoking habits may influence teen decisions to start smoking

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The risks of smoking can extend beyond your own health and that of individuals breathing the secondhand smoke. They may extend to your children's choices as well.

A recent study found that teens were increasingly more likely to smoke with each extra year their parents smoked since the kids were born.

Even if the teens were not regular smokers, they were more likely to experiment early on with smoking for each additional year their parents lit up.

Yet ex-smokers who quit before their children were born did not have kids who were at any greater risk for starting to smoke.

"Quit smoking before having kids."

The study, led by Darren Mays, PhD, of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC, investigated the influence of parents' smoking on their children's decision to smoke.

The researchers interviewed 406 teens, aged 12 to 17 and their parents between 2001 and 2004.

The questions related to the parents' smoking history, including how long they had smoked and how much they smoked.

Then, the following year and five years after that, the teens were interviewed again. At each interview, they were asked whether they smoked and/or were dependent on nicotine.

Using the results, the researchers calculated what characteristics of the parents' smoking history influenced their children's smoking.

The teens were divided into four categories based on their experience with smoking.

Six percent were early regular smokers who were already smoking regularly by the time of the first interview. Most (80 percent) of these teens were already addicted to nicotine by the last interview.

Then, 23 percent were "early experimenters" who had tried smoking occasionally by the time of the first interview. About half of these teens were smoking by the last interview five years later.

Forty percent were "late experimenters" who had tried smoking after the first interview, a quarter of whom were regular smokers by the final follow-up interview.

The remaining 30 percent of teens had never tried smoking.

The teens whose parents smoked at the time of the first interview were 18 percent more likely to be regular smokers for each additional year they had been exposed to their parents' smoking.

Those parents' teens were also slightly more likely to be early experimenters — 4 percent greater odds for each year the parents smoked.

Yet the teens of parents who had smoked before the children were born were no more likely than nonsmokers' children to start smoking or experimenting early.

"Exposure to parental nicotine dependence is a critical factor influencing intergenerational transmission of smoking," the researchers wrote.

"Adolescents with nicotine-dependent parents are susceptible to more intense smoking patterns and this risk increases with longer duration of exposure," they wrote.

The study was published May 12 in the journal Pediatrics. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health Transdisciplinary Tobacco Research Center award, the Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Shared Resource of Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the National Institutes of Health.

Review Date: 
May 11, 2014
Last Updated:
May 12, 2014