Twelve-year-olds whose parents smoked were more than two times aslikely to begin smoking cigarettes on a daily basis between the ages of13 and 21 than were children whose parents didn't use tobacco,according to a new study that looked at family influences on smokinghabits. The research indicated that parental behavior about smoking,not attitudes, is the key factor in delaying the onset of dailysmoking, according to Karl Hill, director of the University ofWashington's Seattle Social Development Project and an associateresearch professor of social work.
Hill said other elements that influenced whether or not adolescentsbegan daily smoking were consistent family monitoring and rules, familybonding or a strong emotional attachment inside the family, and parentsnot involving children in their own smoking behavior. The laterincludes such activities as asking their children to get a pack ofcigarettes from the car or having them light a cigarette for the parent.
"All of these factors are important in delaying or preventing dailysmoking, but parental smoking is the biggest contributor to childreninitiating smoking," said Hill. "It really is a matter of 'do as I do'not 'do as I say' when it comes to smoking." The study is one of thefirst to look at the initiation of daily smoking rather than theexperimental use of tobacco. It defined daily smoking as smokingbetween one and five cigarettes daily in the previous 30 days at thetime of each interview.
The research is part of the ongoing Seattle Social Development Projectsupported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that is tracking thedevelopment of positive and antisocial behaviors among 808 individuals.They originally were recruited as fifth-grade students from elementaryschools in high-crime Seattle neighborhoods.
For this study, the individuals were interviewed at ages 13, 14, 15,16, 18 and 21. The group was nearly equally divided among males andfemales. Forty-six percent were white, 24 percent were black, 21percent were Asian Americans, 6 percent were American Indians and 3percent were from other ethnic backgrounds.
The study found differences in daily smoking rates both by gender and racial background.
Over all, 37 percent of the individuals reported daily smoking by age21 - 42 percent of the males and 32 percent of the females.
Whites (43 percent) were more likely to have begun regular smoking by21 than were blacks (35 percent) and Asian Americans (24 percent).However, Indians (54 percent) were the group most likely to have begundaily smoking by age 21.
Smoking rates predictably increased as the individuals got older. Justa little more than 2 percent had ever smoked daily at 13. That rateincreased to 5 percent at 14, 12 percent at 15, 18 percent at 16, and27 percent at 18.
"Parents may feel that they don't matter to their teens, but this studyindicates, they really do," said Hill. "It shows that such factors asnot smoking, having good family management skills in setting rules andmonitoring behavior, and having a strong emotional relationship withtheir children matter until the end of adolescence."
Smoking prevention programs, he said, need components focused onparents, something they generally ignore, to help reduce adolescentsmoking. Such programs are important since tobacco use is the leadingpreventable cause of death in the United States, accounting for about440,000 deaths annually, according to the Centers for Disease Controland Prevention.
"Keeping children from smoking starts with parents and their behavior.Some parents say they disapprove of teenage smoking, but continue tosmoke themselves. The evidence is clear from this study that if parentsdon't want their children to start smoking, it is important for them tostop or reduce their own smoking," Hill said.
Co-authors of the study publishedin the current issue of Journal of Adolescent Health are J. DavidHawkins, UW professor of social work; Richard Catalano, UW professor ofsocial work and director of the Social Development Research Group;Robert Abbott, chairman of educational psychology at the UW; and JieGuo, a former UW research scientist.
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