Twelve-year-olds whose parents smoked were more than two times as likely to begin smoking cigarettes on a daily basis between the ages of 13 and 21 than were children whose parents didn't use tobacco, according to a new study that looked at family influences on smoking habits.
The research indicated that parental behavior about smoking, not attitudes, is the key factor in delaying the onset of daily smoking, according to Karl Hill, director of the University of Washington's Seattle Social Development Project and an associate research professor of social work.
Hill said other elements that influenced whether or not adolescents began daily smoking were consistent family monitoring and rules, family bonding or a strong emotional attachment inside the family, and parents not involving children in their own smoking behavior. The later includes such activities as asking their children to get a pack of cigarettes from the car or having them light a cigarette for the parent.
"All of these factors are important in delaying or preventing daily smoking, but parental smoking is the biggest contributor to children initiating 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 the first to look at the initiation of daily smoking rather than the experimental use of tobacco. It defined daily smoking as smoking between one and five cigarettes daily in the previous 30 days at the time of each interview.
The research is part of the ongoing Seattle Social Development Project supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that is tracking the development of positive and antisocial behaviors among 808 individuals. They originally were recruited as fifth-grade students from elementary schools 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 and females. Forty-six percent were white, 24 percent were black, 21 percent were Asian Americans, 6 percent were American Indians and 3 percent 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 age 21 - 42 percent of the males and 32 percent of the females.
Whites (43 percent) were more likely to have begun regular smoking by 21 than were blacks (35 percent) and Asian Americans (24 percent). However, Indians (54 percent) were the group most likely to have begun daily smoking by age 21.
Smoking rates predictably increased as the individuals got older. Just a little more than 2 percent had ever smoked daily at 13. That rate increased to 5 percent at 14, 12 percent at 15, 18 percent at 16, and 27 percent at 18.
"Parents may feel that they don't matter to their teens, but this study indicates, they really do," said Hill. "It shows that such factors as not smoking, having good family management skills in setting rules and monitoring behavior, and having a strong emotional relationship with their children matter until the end of adolescence."
Smoking prevention programs, he said, need components focused on parents, something they generally ignore, to help reduce adolescent smoking. Such programs are important since tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, accounting for about 440,000 deaths annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Keeping children from smoking starts with parents and their behavior. Some parents say they disapprove of teenage smoking, but continue to smoke themselves. The evidence is clear from this study that if parents don't want their children to start smoking, it is important for them to stop or reduce their own smoking," Hill said.