New research confirms that children whose parents smoke are more likely to pick up the habit themselves.
Dr. Stephen E. Gilman of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and his colleagues found that the effect was particularly strong if young people were exposed to a parent’s tobacco use before their teen years.
Gilman also pointed out that in children of ex-smokers “that risk goes away if parents quit.”
The research team noted that while there is increasing evidence that children of smokers are more likely to be smokers themselves, less is known about whether one parent has a stronger effect than the other.
Furthermore, it is still unclear whether the influence of parents on their offspring’s smoking behavior is the same throughout childhood and adolescence.
For the study, researchers chose 559 boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 17 and spoke with one parent of each adolescent participant.
They found 62.4 percent of parents had ever smoked in their lives, while 46 percent had met criteria for full nicotine dependence.
Overall, 27.8 percent of the adolescents reported having used cigarettes, with the prevalence of use increasing with age; 7.2 percent of 12-year-olds said they had smoked, while 61.3 percent of 17-year-olds did.
The researchers concluded that each parent independently influenced the likelihood that a young person would start smoking.
A mother’s smoking affected sons and daughters’ risk equally, but a father’s smoking had a stronger effect on boys than girls, and the smoking habits of fathers who did not live with their families had no affect on offspring’s smoking risk.
It was also determined that the longer a parent smoked, it became more likely that an adolescent would starting smoking. Whether or not the parent was actually dependent on nicotine didn’t affect the strength of the relationship.
Gilman told Reuters Health the most striking result was that the effects were strongest at younger ages. “Children who were 12 or younger when their parents were actively smoking were about 3.6 times as likely to smoke as children of non-smokers,” he said.
“But the adolescents who were 13 and older when their parents smoked were only about 1.7 times more likely to use tobacco.”
The researcher acknowledged that there are many other factors that influence the likelihood of becoming a smoker, from the media to genetic susceptibility to addiction.
“A deeper understanding of the intergenerational transmission of cigarette smoking will provide additional insight into avenues of prevention,” they wrote.
The study suggested that smoking cessation efforts for families and parents would not only reduce the parent’s smoking but also would likely reduce smoking uptake in subsequent generations.
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