Parents should quit smoking while their children are young to help prevent them from picking up the habit later on, according to a new study.
“Our analysis showed that the longer adolescents are exposed to a parent’s smoking when the parent is addicted to nicotine, the more likely they are to begin smoking and to become regular smokers in the future,” said lead author Darren Mays.
Quitting is of course important for parents’ health, and could be important for kids’ health too, said Mays, a public health researcher with the Cancer Prevention & Control Program at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center of Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
“Our results suggest that for parents who are addicted smokers (quitting) may also reduce the likelihood that their children will go on to become smokers in the future,” he told Reuters Health.
For the study, Mays and his colleagues followed 400 teens from early to late adolescence. Researchers separately interviewed the kids, most around age 14, and one of their parents, about their respective smoking histories.
The kids were interviewed again one year later and again four years after that.
Six percent of the kids were already regular smokers when the study began. Thirty percent of the kids reported at all three interviews that they had never smoked.
The rest of the kids either experimented with a few cigarettes early on - nearly half of whom became regular smokers by year five - or experimented later on.
Teens whose parents were current smokers and addicted to nicotine were 10 times more likely to themselves become regular smokers at an early age or to experiment early on with cigarettes than kids with nonsmoking parents.
Among the parents who were current smokers, each year they had smoked slightly increased the odds that their kids would end up in a heavy-smoking trajectory.
The results don't prove that parents smoking caused their kids to take up the habit, the study team acknowledges.
But there’s no real debate about whether there is a link between parental and child smoking – researchers are confident that they are connected, probably due to a combination of genetics and social norms in the household, the researchers note in their report, published in Pediatrics.
Of the 24 kids who were already regular smokers at age 14, two-thirds had a parent who was a current smoker, compared to 3 with a parent that was a former smoker and 5 with nonsmoking parents.
“There is strong