Parents Smoke, Kids Don’t

Prevention in the home works for children of tobacco users, new study shows.

Parents who can’t quit smoking can still take decisive action to prevent their kids from smoking, according to new research.

A three-year study found that kids whose parents smoke were half as likely to try cigarettes if their parents instituted a home-based anti-smoking program. The study of 776 children and their parents Parents’ smoking habits can greatly increase the risk of their children smoking. Research shows that if one or both parents smoke, children may have at least twice the risk of becoming habitual smokers by the time they graduate from high school.

“The fact that parents who smoke can exert a protective anti-smoking effect on their children might seem counter-intuitive,” said study author Christine Jackson, Ph.D., a senior research scientist at PIRE Chapel Hill Center. “Other research has already found that strong parental attitudes and actions against smoking reduce the odds of children using tobacco. Our study found that the same is true even when the parents themselves are smokers.”

Parents, not peers or siblings, are the primary socializing influences during the childhood years, particularly when it comes to personal activities such as diet, physical activity, media use, sexuality and substance abuse, including tobacco use.

But, socializing kids against smoking requires much more than just telling them not to do it. The anti-smoking program that was studied, Smoke-Free Kids, consists of six activity guides for parents and their children ages 8-10 that include games, contests and role-playing. The purpose is to increase effective communication about smoking between parents and kids, including an honest exchange about the parents’ smoking history and addiction and why that relates to expected abstinence among children.

Smoke-Free Kids was not designed to get parents to quit smoking, although 15 percent of the parents involved did quit by the end of the three-year study. However, whether or not a parent quit smoking did not have an impact on the program’s success in deterring kids from smoking.

“Parents who smoke feel guilty about being role models for smoking; they feel hypocritical about trying to prevent their children from smoking,” Jackson said. “For these reasons, it’s difficult to persuade parents who smoke to become anti-smoking advocates in the home.”

Still, most parents who smoke ardently hope that their children do not smoke, she said. “Public health educators and pediatricians should make a special effort to help parents who smoke take action, so that their children won’t face the same deadly health threat that they face,” Jackson said.

The study and the research evaluating it were funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Cancer Institute.

PIRE, or Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, is a national nonprofit public health research institute with centers in seven cities and funded primarily by federal grants and contracts.


Source: ‘Enabling Parents Who Smoke to Prevent Their Children From Initiating Smoking: Results from a Three-year Intervention Evaluation’. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine,
a journal of the American Medical Association. Dec/Jan2006

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