“Our analysis showed that the longer adolescents are
exposed to a parent’s smoking when the parent is addicted to
nicotine, the more likely they are to begin smoking and to become
regular smokers in the future,” said lead author Darren Mays.
Quitting is of course important for parents’ health, and could be
important for kids’ health too, said Mays, a public health
researcher with the Cancer Prevention & Control Program at the
Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center of Georgetown University
Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
“Our results suggest that for parents who are addicted smokers
(quitting) may also reduce the likelihood that their children will
go on to become smokers in the future,” he told Reuters Health.
For the study, Mays and his colleagues followed 400 teens from early
to late adolescence. Researchers separately interviewed the kids,
most around age 14, and one of their parents, about their respective
The kids were interviewed again one year later and again four years
Six percent of the kids were already regular smokers when the study
began. Thirty percent of the kids reported at all three interviews
that they had never smoked.
The rest of the kids either experimented with a few cigarettes early
on - nearly half of whom became regular smokers by year five - or
experimented later on.
Teens whose parents were current smokers and addicted to nicotine
were 10 times more likely to themselves become regular smokers at an
early age or to experiment early on with cigarettes than kids with
Among the parents who were current smokers, each year they had
smoked slightly increased the odds that their kids would end up in a
The results don't prove that parents smoking caused their kids to
take up the habit, the study team acknowledges.
But there’s no real debate about whether there is a link between
parental and child smoking – researchers are confident that they are
connected, probably due to a combination of genetics and social
norms in the household, the researchers note in their report,
published in Pediatrics.
Of the 24 kids who were already regular smokers at age 14,
two-thirds had a parent who was a current smoker, compared to 3 with
a parent that was a former smoker and 5 with nonsmoking parents.
“There is strong evidence of this relationship for both tobacco and
alcohol,” said Mike Vuolo, associate director of the Center for
Research on Young People’s Health at Purdue University in West
Lafayette, Indiana. He was not involved in the new study.
[to top of second column]
This new research focuses specifically on nicotine dependence, which
is ‘substantively important,’ Vuolo told Reuters Health by email.
“There is solid evidence that genetics explains the link between
parent smoking and child smoking,” said Jonathan Bricker of the Fred
Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington.
“But what makes this study and others like it so important is that
it identifies something practical and important we can do right now:
help parents quit smoking for the sake of their children,” Bricker
told Reuters Health by email.
It might be a good idea to target quit-smoking initiatives at
parents who are hooked on nicotine, not just those who smoke, he
But in terms of nicotine dependence, the new study contradicts
previous research by the same team on the same subject, according to
Denise B. Kandel, a professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia
University Mailman School of Public Health in New York.
“The earlier analysis found that onset of smoking was the same
whether or not parents were dependent on nicotine,” Kandel told
Reuters Health by email.
By that logic, whether or not parents smoke at all is the important
measure, not their dependence on nicotine.
The results are still important for public health advocates, who can
identify children at high risk of smoking by whether or not their
parents smoke, she said.
“The best advice for any parent who smokes is to quit as soon as
possible and that resources such as their family doctor, telephone
quit lines and online programs are available to help,” Mays said.
Pediatrics, online May 12, 2014.
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