Belief in dangers of secondhand smoke deters teen smoking, study finds

By Wallace Ravven

Teenage smokers are more likely to quit because they are concerned about
hurting others from secondhand smoke than because they fear for their own
health, according to results of 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 U.S., 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, PhD, 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 continued. 
“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.”

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

The survey interviewed 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 sopped smoking was believing that secondhand smoke harmed nonsmokers.

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

“Encouraging nonsmoking teens - as well as adults - to object to breathing
secondhand smoke and encouraging creation of smoke-free homes is a productive
tobacco control strategy for youth,” the authors conclude.
The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation, and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of