(RxWiki News) "Do as I say, not as I do," may be an attractive saying for parents, but it may not work very well. When it comes to smoking in particular, children often follow their parents' examples.
A recent long-term study found that children were much more likely to smoke if their parents smoked — even if their parents had quit before having kids.
If the children had an older brother or sister who smoked, that increased their chances of smoking even more.
In fact, children of heavy smokers with an older sibling who smoked were 15 times more likely to smoke, compared to kids of nonsmoking parents with no older sibling who smoked.
"Teach your children the dangers of smoking."
This study, led by Mike Vuolo, PhD, of the Department of Sociology at Purdue University in Indiana, looked at the long-term patterns of smoking among children with parents or older siblings who smoke.
The researchers used two sets of data for the study. One came from 1,010 participants involved in a long-term study group who provided ongoing information starting when they were 14 through age 38.
Then, from among this group, 214 participants who became parents, and 314 of their children aged 11 and older, provided information about their smoking habits and characteristics that might influence whether they smoked.
The researchers categorized the participants of the original large group according to four different smoking characteristics:
- 54 percent had never been smokers
- 16 percent had been light smokers who started young (age 15 or earlier) but then quit or reduced their smoking
- 14 percent began smoking when they were older (about 18 or early 20s) and had not quit
- 16 percent began smoking heavily while young and had never quit
When the researchers looked at the smoking rates among the children in the study, they found much higher percentages of smokers among those with parents who smoked.
Only 8 percent of the nonsmokers' children were smokers.
But among children of parents who began smoking while young and had continued smoking heavily, 25 percent of the children smoked.
Meanwhile, among children of parents who smoked while young and had quit, 23 percent of the children smoked.
Among children of parents who began smoking while older and continued, 29 percent of the children smoked.
It was not just the parents' smoking that appeared to influence their children.
Approximately 40 percent of the children with an older sibling who smoked were also smokers. Only 14 percent of the children with a nonsmoking older sibling were smokers.
The researchers then looked at the likelihood of whether a child would smoke based on their parents' and older siblings' smoking status.
Among parents who smoked while young but quit, their kids were four times more likely to smoke than nonsmokers' kids if they had an older brother or sister who smoked. Without an older sibling who smoked, these children were three times more likely to smoke.
Among parents who started smoking late but never stopped, their kids were twice as likely to smoke, compared to nonsmokers' children, if an older sibling smoked. Yet they were oddly four times more likely to smoke without an older sibling who smoked.
Among parents who started smoking heavily while young and never stopped, their children were 15 times more likely to smoke if an older sibling smoked. Without an older sibling who smoked, these kids were twice as likely to smoke.
In general, having an older sibling who smoked — after mathematically removing the influence of whether a parent smoked — made a kid more than six times more likely to smoke than if no older sibling in the home smoked.
"Even in an era of declining rates of teenage cigarette use in the United States, children of current and former smokers face an elevated risk of smoking," the researchers wrote.
"Although smoking as a teenager does not predetermine that one’s adolescent children will smoke, our [long-term patterns in these findings] reveal that parental smoking at any age (even before the child is born) increases the chances that their children will smoke," they wrote.
"Intervention efforts to heighten parental disapproval of smoking and weaken possible [generational] influences should target parents who were smokers at any point from adolescence to adulthood," the researchers concluded. "In addition to parents, the smoking behavior of older siblings should be targeted for prevention efforts," they wrote.
This study was published August 5 in the journal Pediatrics. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.
The research was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Mental Health.