Smoke-Free Begins at Home
THURSDAY, Aug. 3 (HealthSCOUT) -- The best way for parents to keep children from becoming smokers is to ban smoking in the home, a study finds.
Laws that ban smoking in public places also reduce youthful smoking, but prohibiting smoking in school has a lesser effect, report researchers at the Health Research and Policy Centers of the University of Illinois in the Aug. 5 British Medical Journal.
"The message for parents is that if you smoke, you should take your smoking outside," says lead study author Melanie A. Wakefield, a visiting research scientist at the university.
She says, "The main implication of our study is that communities that pass strong laws about smoking not only protect their residents against the effects of tobacco but also are protecting their children against becoming smokers."
There is a "huge variation," community by community and state by state, in legislation about smoking in public places, Wakefield says. To determine the effect of no-smoking legislation, she and her colleagues surveyed more than 17,000 students ages 14 to 17 in 200 schools across the country. They rated the students' smoking habits on a scale than ran from "non-susceptible non-smokers," who had no intention of using tobacco, through "early experimenters" and on to "established smokers."
The students were asked about rules at home and at school, and the researchers also looked at smoking laws, or the lack of them, in the students' states and communities.
"Home smoking restrictions had a much greater effect than bans in public places on uptake of smoking," the report says. "Total bans on smoking at home exerted a relatively greater impact on transition between earlier, rather than later, stages of smoking uptake but significantly reduced the probability of transition at all thresholds."
Teens who lived in homes with smoking bans were 21 percent less likely to take up the habit, even if the parents were smokers, the study found.
Ban on public smoking helps, too.
Laws against smoking in public places reduced the possibility that a young person would move from being a smoking experimenter to an established smoker by 10 percent, the researchers say. The scientists suspect that smoking in public places exposes young children to secondhand smoke, "reducing the noxious deterrent of the first cigarette."
Restrictions on smoking are becoming more common, and Wakefield says, "We hope the results of our study encourage that trend."
The same issue of the journal reports that researchers at University College in London have found that exposure to secondhand smoke among young people has been halved since the late 1980s, because fewer parents are smoking and less smoking in public places. A third report, from San Diego State University, says that counseling mothers reduced their children's exposure to smoke.
"These three studies show that educational intervention can be effective, restrictions can be effective and enforcement of regulations can be effective," says Roberta Ferrence, director of the Ontario Tobacco research Unit in Canada and co-author of an accompanying editorial. "If we combine these three, we will likely get a lot of synergy in reducing exposure to tobacco and recruitment of young smokers."
What To Do
Parents play a major role in smoking prevention, Ferrence says: "We would suggest that to prevent smoking in children, you should talk to them about smoking, don't allow smoking in the home, and if you do smoke, keep it outside the home."
A parent who smokes should try to stop. If that effort is unsuccessful, a personal ban on smoking in the home, combined with information about the hazards of smoking, can help keep children away from the habit. It also will probably cut down on your smoking, since it won't be easy to fire one up anyplace you want in the house.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Tobacco Pages have lots of information on youth smoking.