Smoke Signals: Puffing Parents Send Mixed Messages
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Parents who ask their children to light their cigarettes or empty their ashtrays are signaling to their kids that it's okay to smoke, even though they may preach otherwise, according to researchers.
While parents may think these tasks are merely harmless chores for a child, the reality is that youngsters asked to perform them are more likely to start smoking, said Dr. Rafael Laniado-Laborin, a lung specialist at Tijuana General Hospital in Mexico, and an associate professor at San Diego State University in California.
For instance, kids who are asked to light their parents' cigarettes are more than twice as likely to smoke as those who are not asked to do this task, study findings show.
Asking a child to light a cigarette and other parental "prompting" behaviors tell kids that it is acceptable to smoke and may even encourage them to do so, Laniado-Laborin told Reuters Health. "Kids who are prompted will smoke more frequently than other kids," he added.
The study involved questionnaires completed separately by 292 sets of parents and their children, all 7th and 8th graders in San Diego.
Fifty percent of students said their parents asked them to clean ashtrays, 60% said parents asked them to bring their cigarettes and 14% said parents asked them to light their cigarettes. About 3% of kids said their parents actually lit cigarettes in the child's mouth, according to findings released Monday at a meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) in San Diego.
However, parents generally reported that such behaviors did not occur so frequently. For instance, just 9% of parents said they asked their children to clean ashtrays and 28% said they asked them to bring their cigarettes.
"Parents do not accept that they are prompting kids to smoke," Laniado-Laborin said. "Parents in focus groups say it's not really prompting--it's a chore. The signals they're sending their kids are getting crossed."
"The discrepancy in the rates of these behaviors reported by parents and children indicates that parents who smoke seem to be ignorant of involving their children in their smoking habit," Dr. Udaya B.S. Prakash, ACCP president, said in a statement. "It is crucial that efforts be made to educate parents on how they may be unknowingly jeopardizing their children's health and indirectly encouraging them to smoke."
Hispanic boys who said their parents asked them to light cigarettes were the most likely to smoke, results showed. But youngsters who reported strong family ties were less likely to start smoking than those who tended to put their friends first.
Overall, 8% of Hispanic and 5% of non-Hispanic kids said they smoked in the month prior to the survey.