How Kids Learn To Smoke

Smoking addiction heavily influenced by early exposure through friends and family

(RxWiki News) Most people start smoking before they turn 18. Researchers have been trying to pin down when, why and how teens start smoking so they can create ways to stop it from happening.

In a recent study, researchers asked a group of kids every year from the 7th grade until graduating high school about their smoking habits, as well as their friends’ and parents’ smoking habits.

The researchers found that both peer and parental smoking habits greatly influenced the students’ own smoking habits.

"Quit smoking for your kids."

Yue Laio, MPH, and a doctoral candidate in the Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, was the lead author in a study on the peer and parental influences of cigarette smoking on adolescents.

“Experimentation with cigarettes usually starts during junior high school and the development of regular smoking typically occurs in the early years of high school,” said the authors.

The researchers gathered data from the ongoing Midwestern Prevention Project (MPP). A total of 1,001 students in the 7th grade were followed through the 12th grade.

The students were asked about their cigarette use, perceived friends’ cigarette use and perceived parental cigarette use, twice during the 7th grade and then every year throughout the study.

At the start of the study, 8 percent of the 7th graders said they smoked at least one cigarette in the past 30 days. At the same time, 45 percent said they had at least one friend who smoked and 60 percent had at least one parent who smoked.

Six months later, 12 percent of 7th graders said they smoked, 47 percent said they had a friend who smoked and 55 percent said they had a parent who smoked.

By the 8th grade, 15 percent of participants said they smoked, 46 percent said they had a friend who smoked and 57 percent said they had a parent who smoked.

The rates of students who smoked and students who had friends who smoked steadily increased every year, while parental smoking decreased by 1 to 2 percent every year from the 8th grade until the end of the study.  

“It is possible that adolescents tend to select friends based on similar smoking behaviors. The effect of friend selection is beyond the scope of the current study, but there is evidence that the effect of friend selection on smoking is relatively consistent over time,” the authors wrote.

Having friends who smoked showed a greater impact on 7th and 8th graders’ smoking habits than on 9th through 12th graders’ smoking habits.

During the 7th and 8th grade assessments, the researchers also asked the students whether or not they had older siblings who smoked. Only 581 students had older siblings. The researchers found that older sibling smoking did appear to influence the students to pick up smoking during middle school as much or more so than parental smoking behaviors.

The researchers also found that having friends and parents that smoked influenced girls more in the 9th and 10th grades and then decreased, while there was an increase in the influence of friends' smoking habits on boys throughout high school.

The authors concluded that the transition from middle school to high school presented a great opportunity to start interventions to counteract peer influence on smoking behaviors. The authors also recommended targeting parents to quit smoking, as teens appear to be influenced by parental smoking until the end of high school.

This study was published in April in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The National Institutes of Health supported funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were declared.

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Review Date: 
April 15, 2013