Peer pressure to smoke may be more influential for kids in middle school than
for older students, a new study reports.
Although their friends' smoking behaviour may hold less sway for teens over
time, researchers said parents seem to remain influential over their children's
smoking behaviour throughout high school.
They suggested that smoking intervention programmes focused on peer pressure
to smoke would be more effective for students in middle (or junior high) school
than high school, and parents could provide another possible anti-smoking
Based on previous research that looked at social development, "we thought
friends would have more influence on cigarette use during high school than
junior high school," study author Yue Liao, a student with the Institute for
Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research at the Keck School of Medicine
of the University of Southern California, said in a university news release.
"But what we found was friends have greater influence during junior high
school than high school. We think the reason may be that friends' cigarette use
behaviour may have a stronger influence on youth who start smoking at a younger
age," Liao continued.
"During high school, cigarette use might represent the maintenance of
behaviour rather than a result of peer influence."
For the study, the researchers examined information on about 1 000 teens
involved in the Midwestern Prevention Project, the longest-running substance use
prevention, randomised controlled trial in the United States. Randomised
controlled studies are considered the gold-standard for research.
The students were first questioned in the seventh grade when they were 11
years old. They were reassessed after six months, and then once every year until
they were in the 12th grade.
The participants were asked how many of their close friends and parents (or
two important adults in their lives) smoked cigarettes. The students were also
asked how many cigarettes they had smoked in the past month.
Over the course of the study, the influence of the students' friends and
parents was analysed to determine if it changed as the students got older.
The investigators found that kids' smoking behaviour is significantly
affected by the habits of their peers and their parents in both middle school
and high school.
The influence of friends, however, is stronger in middle school. Although
parents' influence started to decrease in the final two years of high school, it
did not change between middle school and high school.
Among students in grades 9 and 10, girls were more affected by their friends'
smoking behaviour than boys, the researchers noted. As they advanced to 10th and
12th grades, however, friends and parents had less influence on girls.
Meanwhile, boys at this age were increasingly swayed by their friends' smoking
"Boys tend to foster friendship by engaging in shared behaviours, whereas
girls are more focused on emotional sharing," Liao explained. "So, it is
possible that boys are adopting their friends' risky behaviours, like smoking,
as the groups grow together over time."
The study authors concluded their findings could aid in the development of
teen anti-smoking programmes.
"We observed a big dip in friends' effect on smoking behaviour from eighth to
ninth grade. Thus, the first year of high school represents an opportunity for
interventions to counteract peer influence and to continue to target parents as
their behaviour remains influential through the end of high school," Liao said
in the news release.
"In addition, teaching students refusal skills during junior high school
could be effective in decreasing cigarette use at the beginning of high school.
Programmes could also promote positive parenting skills to protect children from
deviant peer influence."
The researchers noted that more research is needed to explore the influence
of siblings on teen smoking.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about teen