Originally published on Savvy Auntie.
A recent study reveals that the power of peer pressure may prevail over “decades of public health education among teens” (HealthDay). The tendency for smoking among the popular kids continues to persuade other high school students to follow suit in order to fit in. Thomas Valente, professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, agrees: “Popularity is a strong predictor of smoking. We haven’t done enough to make it cool not to smoke.” Valente points to trends that were found among previous research, which studied smoking among students, grades 6-12, in the United States and Mexico.
According to the HealthDay study, which focused primarily on seven high schools in southern California with a majority of Hispanic or Latino students, the most popular kids were more likely to smoke than others. For some, even the simple act of thinking or imagining that their friends were smokers was enough of an influence – whether or not their friends actually smoked.
In 2006 and 2007, 1,950 students in grades 9-10 were asked: if they had ever tried smoking; how often they had smoked in the past month; how many students they believed were smokers; and what they believed to be their close friends’ stances were on smoking. Teens were asked to identify five best friends in order for researchers to gain an understanding of social networks on campus – they measured popularity by how often the students named other schoolmates as friends.
Teens who smoked tended to form friendships with others who smoked, and those who simply believed that their close friends were smokers, tended to take on the habit as well. The research seemed to suggest that the students were more concerned with the habits of those within their immediate circle of friends, a particular group of students, rather than with those involving the school’s entire student body.
So, how can Auntie help her teen nieces and nephews say “No?” Tell them the truth about tobacco industry ads.
Valente cautions: “We always want our kids to be popular, but there’s a liability to that. By being popular you’re more aware of other things that are happening around you and you want to be sure to retain that popularity, which [in-and-of-itself] is stressful.” Since popularity may be a risk factor for other dangerous behaviors (e.g., binge drinking, risky sexual activities, and poor eating habits), Valente asks adults to keep kids knowledgeable about the manipulative smoking advertisements of the tobacco industry – “since teenagers don’t like to be manipulated.”
Continue to share the facts.
The American Lung Association reveals that 68% of adult smokers started smoking at 18 (or younger). Every day, almost 3,900 children under 18 experience their first smoke, and those who start the habit as adolescents are more likely to develop an addiction than those who start smoking at a later age.
Remind them that it’s okay to say “No.”
Interestingly enough, popularity can be used to counter the pressures to smoke. Valente points to research, showing it is actually effective to recruit popular kids to spread the word about why it is not cool to smoke. And since Savvy Aunties are never lacking in their “coolness” factor, it might be best to consider supporting nieces and nephews by sharing positive viewpoints that will help them to better deal with the pressures and say “No” to smoking.