Be warned, popularity may cause lung cancer, heart disease, and emphysema.
New research from the University of Southern California (USC) and University of Texas finds that popular students in seven Southern California high schools are more likely to smoke cigarettes than their less popular counterparts.
The study, which appears online this week in the Journal of Adolescent Health, confirms trends observed in previous USC-led studies of students in the sixth through 12th grades across the United States and in Mexico.
"That we're still seeing this association more than 10 years later, despite marginal declines in smoking, suggests that popularity is a strong predictor of smoking behavior," said Thomas W. Valente, Ph.D., professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and lead author of three prior studies on the subject.
In the newest study, Valente and colleagues asked 1,950 students in the ninth and 10th grades in October 2006 and 2007 whether they had ever tried smoking, how frequently they had smoked in the past 30 days, how many students their age they thought smoked cigarettes, how they perceived their close friends felt about smoking, and who their five best friends were at school. Popularity was measured by the frequency that other respondents named a student as a friend.
The researchers found that those who believed their close friends smoked were more likely to also smoke, even if their perception was incorrect. Popular students became smokers earlier than the less popular. And students who became smokers between the ninth and 10th grade were more likely to form friendships with other smokers.