Kick the Habit While Kids Are Young
Parents trying to give up smoking have another reason to do it sooner rather than later. New research shows that parents who quit while their kids are young reduce the chances that their children will become smokers themselves.
"I suspect parents tend to underestimate their influence on their kids' smoking behavior," said Jonathan Bricker of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, lead author of the study. It was published in the journal Addiction (Vol. 98, No. 5: 585-593).
Bricker and his colleagues followed more than 3,000 school children for nine years to try to pinpoint that parental influence.
When the children were in 3rd grade (8-9 years old), the researchers asked the parents about their smoking habits. Nine years later, when the children were in 11th and 12th grade, the researchers again questioned the parents about their smoking and asked the children about their own habits. The kids also were given a saliva swab to confirm whether they had been using tobacco.
Not surprisingly, the study showed that children of two current smoking parents were most likely to be smokers themselves: 37% of these kids smoked daily in 12th grade. Just 14% of the high school seniors whose parents had never smoked were smokers, as were 26% of kids with parents who had both quit.
Timing Is Important
But quitting early before kids started to form attitudes about tobacco made a difference.
The researchers found that when both parents quit smoking before their child was in 3rd grade, the child had a 39% lower risk of becoming a daily smoker by high school, compared to children whose parents both still smoked. When just one parent had quit before the child was in 3rd grade, the risk was 25% lower.
"What this tells parents is that not only can they affect their own health if they quit, but they can protect their children from the tobacco-related diseases they could get down the line," said Tom Glynn, director of cancer science and trends for the American Cancer Society (news - web sites).
More research is needed to determine the impact of a parent kicking the habit when the child is older than 3rd grade.
New Focus for Public Health Programs
Bricker and his colleagues say public health officials should consider involving parents in programs that try to keep kids off cigarettes.
"It could be as simple as sending home a brochure or inviting parents to school for a program," he said. Pediatricians can also play a role by encouraging smoking parents to quit for the benefit of their children. The findings can also be included into general smoking cessation programs.
The benefits of encouraging such programs could be huge, the researchers say.
"If all smoking parents were to quit by the time their children reached age 8 years, then every year 136,000 youth in the United States would be prevented from becoming daily smokers," they write.