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More Teenagers Saying No to Smoking
Smoking Among Teens Isn't as Cool as It Used to Be

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The barrage of antismoking messages geared to prevent young people from smoking are hard to miss. And judging by a new study, the message is getting across. It shows that today's teens smoke less than their counterparts did 20 years ago.

The survey is unique because it gave the same smoking questionnaire to students of the same age at the same midwestern school in 1980 and in 2001. Researchers interviewed 3,500 students in the 1980 study and 3,200 in the 2001 study -- all were 7th through 11th graders. The findings are published in the August issue of Health Psychology.

Researchers asked students about various smoking-related topics:

  • Smoking status: Do you smoke? Have you ever?
  • Global attitudes toward smoking: Is smoking cool?
  • Beliefs about smoking-related health consequences: If I smoke, will I get heart disease?
  • Psychological beliefs: How does smoking affect your mood?
  • Social consequences of smoking: If I smoke, will I lose friends?
  • Beliefs about addiction: Is smoking controllable?

What a Difference 20 Years Can Make

Results were drastically different in 2001. The number of students who never smoked rose from 45% in 1980 to 66% in 2001. The largest increase in never-smokers was greatest in groups of non-Hispanic whites, and greater for boys than girls.

Regular teen smokers dropped from 15% to 11%, and the number of students who had experimented with smoking -- saying they had tried one or two cigarettes -- was nearly half of what it used to be -- dropping from 40% to 23%.

The old beliefs that smoking is "cool" or "fun" have also become a fading fad. More teens in the 2001 survey who never smoked reported having negative associations with smoking. Although this trend was seen in boys and girls, the attitude change was greatest in girls.

On the other hand, there was no big difference in attitudes toward smoking over the years between "triers" and regular smokers.

The more recent survey also showed that teens from all three groups viewed smoking as addictive and less controllable.

Teen Smoking Gets a Bad Rep

Researchers say there is something to be said for telling teens smoking has a bad reputation.

"Current prevention programs typically try to redefine smoking as having negative rather than positive social consequences," says Laurie Chassin, PhD, Arizona State University, in a news release.

"Our findings suggest that messages about the addictiveness of smoking might be a useful addition to such programs."

Another finding that shows a shift in attitudes toward smoking came from a smaller, separate study. Researchers interviewed children of the parents who took part in the initial 1980 study as teenagers. Just as in the larger survey results, there was less smoking and a similar shift in attitudes among the children and the parents.

SOURCES: Chassin, L. Health Psychology, August 2003; vol 22: pp 347-353. News Release, Health Psychology.


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