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Many Preteens Don't See Smoking as Addictive

Children May Underestimate Addictive Nature of Cigarettes

WebMD Health News

June 30, 2005 -- As many as one-third of children say they can smoke cigarettes without becoming addicted, according to a new survey.

Although children generally had negative attitudes about smoking, the study also showed that nearly a third of children say they believe that smoking may help them relax, lose weight, or help people feel more comfortable at parties.

Researchers say the study shows that children as young as 10 years old underestimated the addictive powers of tobacco and begin to believe there are benefits of smoking. These beliefs may put them at risk for taking up smoking cigarettes in the future.

Attitudes About Smoking Form Early

In the study, researchers examined beliefs and attitudes about smoking among a group of 418 children aged 10 to 12 over a period of 20 months.

The children were selected at random from participants in a large smoking prevention program. The families received a videotape about youth smoking and other smoking prevention materials from their doctors.

The results showed nearly half of the children formed favorable attitudes about smoking during the course of the study, and another half formed negative views about smoking.

They say that smoking onset starts with a favorable attitude about smoking and can progress in stages to regular smoking. Understanding what affects a favorable attitude has will help experts design effective intervention programs.

The results also show that:

  • The number of preteens who said they believed smoking helped people relax grew from 10% to 17%.
  • 18% of preteens said smoking helped people feel more comfortable at parties and other situations at the start of the study compared with 29% after the follow-up.
  • The percentage of children who said people could smoke a few cigarettes without becoming addicted grew from 27% to 31%.
  • Nearly one in four preteens thought they "would be able to quit smoking anytime they wanted" at the start of the study compared with 1 in 5 nearly two years later.

Parents are the single most influential factor in the early development of a child's opinion and attitudes, researchers write.

Children from families in which the parents were less involved in their children's lives or spent less time communicating were more likely to have positive beliefs about smoking.

Children who had a parent who smoked were more likely to think more highly of tobacco by the end of the study.

But researchers found no proof that parents' attitudes about smoking, aside from their smoking habits, had any influence on their child's attitude about smoking.

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