In the US, more than 3,200 people under the age of 18 smoke their first cigarette each day. But new research, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, has identified a series of factors among new adolescent smokers that could be used to determine their likelihood of quitting the habit.
Teenage smoking remains a major concern in the US. It is estimated that if smoking among under-18s continues at its current rate, 5.6 million American youths will die prematurely of a smoking-related illness.
The research team, including Jennifer O'Loughlin, PhD, of the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Montreal in Canada, notes that very few studies have identified factors that may deter teenage smokers from continuing the habit.
In fact, previous research has suggested that tools to discourage smoking does not work for adolescents. Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the journal Tobacco Control, which found that health warnings on cigarette packets have little impact on teenagers.
The researchers of this latest study set out to investigate whether they could pinpoint any factors that could be used to create smoking prevention or cessation interventions for adolescents.
Healthy family habits 'help teens to stop smoking'
The team assessed the tobacco exposure of 1,293 youths aged 12 or 13 who were part of the Nicotine Dependence in Teens (NDIT) study. Of these, 706 (262 boys and 444 girls) who reported smoking initiation at study baseline or during the study were included, and 620 were included in the final results.
Teenagers who said health warnings on cigarette packets made them afraid to smoke were 44% more likely to quit the habit than those who were unaffected by the health warnings.
Participants were required to complete questionnaires at the beginning of the study, and various body measurements of the subjects were taken. This information was collected every 3 months for 5 years.
Of the participants, 43% said their parents smoked, 78% said they often saw teachers or other school staff smoke, while 87% said they had friends who smoked.
Overall, 40% of participants stopped smoking during the follow-up period. Stopping smoking was defined as no cigarette smoking for a minimum of four consecutive follow-up cycles within a year.
Of those who smoked at least occasionally, the researchers found that boys were 80% more likely to stop smoking than girls, while older adolescents were 30% more likely to stop smoking than younger adolescents.
The team found that subjects who said health warnings on cigarette packets made them afraid to smoke were 44% more likely to quit the habit than those who were unaffected by the health warnings.
Furthermore, adolescents who took part in team sports were 40% more likely to stop smoking, compared with those who did not participate in team sports.
The study results also revealed that adolescents who reported family stress, concerns about weight, being overweight, illicit drug use, higher tolerance to cigarette smoke and cigarette cravings were 10-30% less likely to stop smoking.
Commenting on the team's findings, O'Loughlin says:
"Overall, these results support that healthy family habits, which include nonsmoking as the norm as well as positive exchange and functioning, will help novice smokers discontinue smoking.
Parents who smoke should understand the effects of their smoking on their children, and families should work together or with professionals to identify and reduce sources of family stress. Parents should engage their children in sports and other healthy activities."
O'Loughlin adds that it is important that further research better determines factors that encourage girls to stop smoking in comparison with boys, so gender-specific interventions can be developed.
The team now plans to create a screening tool, called a nomogram, which they say will help doctors identify youths who are likely to need smoking cessation assistance.
Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study by researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, which found that walking for 20 minutes each day may help teenagers to quit smoking.