Parents are children’s biggest influencers in many aspects of life, including whether they choose to smoke cigarettes or not. A new study in the journal Pediatrics shows that pre-teens and teenagers are more likely to smoke if their oldest sibling or parent smoked – even if they quit before the child was born.
Dot Kalmon, coordinator of the Central Wisconsin Tobacco Free Coalition, says she isn’t surprised that kids are more likely to smoke even when their parents’ have given up the bad habit.
“The reason is a lot of addictive behavior is inherited so whether its tobacco that they choose to use or drugs or alcohol there are some people who have a more genetic ability to be predisposed to addition to one type or another,” she said.
In the study, researchers used data collected from 214 parents and 314 children ages 11 and under. The parents were put into four categories: stable nonsmokers (54%), early-onset light smokers who quit/reduce (16%), late-onset persistent smokers (14%), and early-onset persistent heavy smokers (16%). Although 8 percent of children of stable nonsmokers smoked in the last year, the other groups’ children had much higher percentages, ranging from 23 percent to 29 percent.
“Certainly teens are more apt to smoke if they see the behavior and lots of teens start smoking not because they enjoy the activity but because they’re just trying to be more grown up,” Kalmon said.
Kalmon says that when she talks to teens that smoke and asks them how many of their peers they think smoke, they invariably say there’s a high rate of smoking because they think that’s the norm. When she tells them about only 13 percent of teens smoke, they’re surprised because they think everyone smokes. That’s the result of teens seeing people around them in their family or their peers smoking.
Smoking among adults and teens has greatly declined in the last decade. A decade ago, 30 percent of teenagers smoked. Today, 17 percent of adults smoke, much less than years ago.
“We’re very happy with the rate of decline and we think that will continue,” Kalmon said.
Still, the importance of being a good role model will never decline, she says.