Early smoking lessons may go up in smoke
DALLAS (Reuters Health) - Children as young as 7 or 8 years of age have a clear understanding of the dangers of smoking, according to results of a new study. But researchers say this knowledge may do little to protect them against taking up the habit as t
It all comes down to ``adolescent risk-taking,'' explained study co-author David Eliason, a third-year medical student at the University of California, Irvine, Medical School. ``They're willing to do it, and it's not going to matter what they know about the health aspects of it,'' he said.
Eliason and fellow medical school student Jay Hsu presented their findings here Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
The two researchers had 3rd-grade teachers at a California elementary school hand out questionnaires to 110 children. The questions tested the students on their knowledge of the health effects of smoking and their own attitudes toward the smoking habit. Most of the children had already been exposed to anti-smoking messages in the classroom.
In an interview with Reuters Health, Hsu said that well over 90% of the youngsters said they were ``aware of the dangers of smoking--the coughing, the different health problems with your lungs. Also how it changes your image, with yellow teeth and things like that.''
Furthermore, nearly all of the 8-year-olds said they had no intention of picking up smoking as they got older.
So why do other studies show that more than two thirds of American adolescents try smoking, many picking up the habit for good?
``It could be peer pressure,'' Hsu theorized. ``What the literature suggests is that there are a number of factors that influence children as they develop. When they are younger, they have a lot of influence from their parents. But as they grow older the influence of their peers increases.''
In other words, if the use of tobacco is perceived to be 'cool' among one's peer group, old lessons regarding the dangers of smoking may simply go up in smoke.
Parents can still help tip the balance and keep children from taking up the habit, however. Eliason believes that parents need to remain close to their children so that they can compete with any negative messages they might be receiving from friends.
``If you have parents who can stay part of their children's lives, then they have a much better chance of remaining an influence,'' Eliason said.
``It's not just having parents who don't smoke or having an absence of smoking in the home, but rather having parents that actively take part in being part of their children's socialization.''