Dangers of Secondhand Smoke Deter Teen Smoking

December 04, 2000
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Teenage smokers are more likely to quit because of concern about hurting others from secondhand smoke than because of fear for their own health, according to a survey published in the journal Pediatrics.

The study, by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Pennsylvania, concludes that educating young people about secondhand smoke's harmful effects and encouraging nonsmokers to speak out should be key elements of anti-tobacco programs.

The study found that among those 14 to 22 years of age in the United States, believing that secondhand smoke harmed nonsmokers more than doubles the chance that a smoker plans to stop or already has stopped smoking.

"Our study found for the first time that among teens, concerns about secondhand smoke's harmful effect on others are far more likely to influence smokers to quit than are worries about their own health," said Stanton Glantz, lead author on the study, a professor of medicine at UCSF and a researcher in the UCSF Institute for Health Policy Studies.

"These results show that teens behave just like grown ups," Glantz said. "In the past, tobacco control programs have identified clean indoor air as an "adult" issue; our work shows that it is an equally important element of prevention programs directed at teens."

The survey included interviews with about 300 smokers and 300 nonsmokers between the ages of 14 and 22 in the United States. It found that nonsmokers were more likely to consider smoking risky than were smokers, and also were twice as likely to consider secondhand smoke dangerous than smokers. Equally important, the only statistically significant predictor of smokers planning to stop or having actually stopped smoking was believing that secondhand smoke harmed those who don't smoke.

The authors note that the results are from a one-time, cross-sectional study, and so cause and effect should be interpreted more cautiously than with longitudinal studies, which follow people over time.

Nonetheless, they conclude, the findings are consistent with results of longitudinal studies of similar questions in adults, as well as econometric studies and focus-group studies of anti-tobacco advertising in teens, which indicate that secondhand smoke is one of three highly effective messages for reaching teens. (The other two effective messages are educating people about addiction and about the anti-tobacco industry's dishonest behavior - such as the advertisements run in the California and other state tobacco control campaigns.)

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Co-author on the study is Patrick Jamieson, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania.