The study is the first to give an intergenerational view of the impact a parent’s behavior has on children.
Nearly a quarter of high school students reported using some type of tobacco product in 2012.
By Allie Bidwell May 12, 2014 | 11:27 a.m. EDT + More
The longer children are exposed to the behavior of a parent addicted to smoking, the more likely they are to start the habit themselves and become a heavy smoker in the future, according to new research from Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The study, published online Monday, suggests the sooner parents can quit smoking, the better. The problem, however, is that individuals who are characterized as “nicotine dependent” – and are clinically addicted to smoking – often have the hardest time quitting, says Darren Mays, the study’s lead investigator and an assistant professor of oncology at Georgetown Lombardi.
“Anything we can do in terms of helping those parents quit obviously reduces risk for them and could potentially reduce the likelihood their kids are smokers in the future,” Mays says.
Mays – along with the study’s senior author Raymond Niaura, an adjunct professor of oncology – looked at data from more than 400 parents and their participating oldest children between the ages of 12 and 17. The parents were interviewed in the New England Family Study about how long they had been smoking, and the children were followed and interviewed over the course of five years about their smoking habits.
The team found that the longer a child was exposed to a parent who was nicotine-dependent, the more risk he or she had for smoking in the future.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6.7 percent of middle school students in the United States and 23.3 percent of high school students in 2012 used tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, hookahs and pipes. For both groups, the highest percentage reported using cigarettes.
The CDC also reports that most smokers start young: Nearly 9 out of 10 started smoking by age 18, and 99 percent started by age 26. Although it’s the leading cause of preventable death in the country – accounting for nearly half a million, or 1 in 5, deaths each year – more than 42 million adults in the United States are smokers.
But quitting is particularly difficult for those who are dependent on nicotine – characterized by having strong cravings and physiological withdrawals when they don’t smoke, Mays says. Still, he says there are resources available that are often low-cost or free to help smokers quit.
Smokefree.gov, he says, offers a free text messaging service that sends messages of encouragement, advice and tips to help individuals quit. “The message to any parent who smokes, based on prior research and what we’re seeing as well, is quitting as soon as possible has obvious health benefits for them, and we’re seeing that it may have benefits for their kids in terms of preventing risky behaviors in the future,” Mays says. “The key message is that resources are available.”