Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Do Smoking Parents Foster Smoking Children?

I am a long-time smoker, my wife is also smoke, and ever more than I am. My parents do not smoke, and never smoked in their lives. My mother-in-law was a heavy smoker, while my father-in law does not smoke. My kids do not smoke. So, where is the logical pattern in this picture? Does a non-smoking parent serve as a positive example for children? Or does a smoking parent give an unhealthy habit a sense of legitimacy for the kids? I guess, in my personal case, the smoking pattern between parents, and kids’ smoking is not clear. However, it does not mean that there is no statistically significant evidence for this causal relationship exists.

Twelve-year-old kids, whose parents smoke, are more than two times as likely to begin smoking cigarettes on a daily basis between the ages of 13 and 21 than children whose parents do not use tobacco, according to a study that looked at family influences on smoking habits. The research indicated that parental behavior about smoking, not attitudes, is the key factor in delaying the onset of daily smoking, according to Karl Hill, director of the University of Washington's Seattle Social Development Project and an associate research professor of social work.

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Hill said other elements that influenced whether or not adolescents began daily smoking were consistent family monitoring and rules, family bonding or a strong emotional attachment inside the family, and parents not involving children in their own smoking behavior. The later includes such activities as asking their children to get a pack of cigarettes from the car or having them light a cigarette for the parent.

"All of these factors are important in delaying or preventing daily smoking, but parental smoking is the biggest contributor to children initiating smoking," said Hill. "It really is a matter of 'do as I do' not 'do as I say' when it comes to smoking." The study is one of the first to look at the initiation of daily smoking rather than the experimental use of tobacco. It defined daily smoking as smoking between one and five cigarettes daily in the previous 30 days at the time of each interview.


The government of Canada regularly engages in a Youth Smoking Survey to better understand the determinants of smoking and why children make the decision to experiment with cigarettes. It turns out that children are more influenced by the social and emotional aspects of smoking than any physical effects of nicotine.

Here is what is known about the family effects of cigarettes and smoking behavior of parents:
  • Children are more likely to become smokers if smoking is viewed as normal within the family.
  • Parents who disapprove of smoking and make it known are less likely to have children who take up smoking.
  • The more people in the home who smoke the more likely a child is to experiment with smoking.
  • Families who view the effects of cigarettes as social or meeting emotional needs are more likely to raise future smokers. If the child sees cigarettes being used for socializing and meeting needs for love and belonging then the child is more likely to ignore the smoking facts about the harmful effects of cigarettes and go on to experiment with smoking as a way to feel connected to others - usually other smokers.

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Other studies support the point of view that there is a strong correlation between smoking parents and risk that their kids become smokers as well.

"We find strong evidence, that parental smoking significantly increases the probability that their children likewise become smokers. Youths living in families with both parents smoking are 3.3 times more likely to smoke themselves, while a smoking father raises the probability by the factor 2.8 and a smoking mother by the factor 2.1." (Christian Bantle and John Haisken-DeNew).

"The smoking behaviour of parents is also important. A youth with a father or mother who smokes is more likely to smoke. A female youth is more likely than a male youth to smoke if she has a smoking parent. When both parents smoke, a youth is more likely to smoke than when only one parent smokes. The number of youth who have a father and/or mother who smokes has declined since 1994." (Scott T. Leatherdale, etc.)

An interesting study, performed at Dartmouth Medical College in New Hampshire, US, confirmed that children as young as 2 years old may be influenced by their parents’ tobacco habits, many years before they even start consider using cigarettes themselves. Here are some of the findings:

In a "role-play" study, children 2-6 years old used dolls to go shopping for an "adult social evening." What they bought may surprise you:
  • Thirty-four children (28.3%) bought cigarettes.
  • Seventy-four children (61.7%) bought alcohol.
  • Twenty-nine of these children (21.4%) bought both alcohol and cigarettes.
  • Children whose parents smoked were four times more likely to buy cigarettes than the children of non-smokers.
  • Children whose parents drank alcohol at least monthly were three times more likely to purchase alcohol.

As parents, we want the best for our children. We guide them to eat right and to protect their health. We guide them in their choice of friends, what to do with their spare time and what to watch on TV. And we make other tough choices for their well-being. May be you should think about quitting smoking just to make the smoke-free choice easier for your children. I know, for some people, that argument might be even stronger than worries for their own health.

But, in addition to not smoking themselves, there are number of other ways parents can make a difference. Setting rules about movie viewing, communicating with your child, and being aware of how your behavior might influence your children at an early age are all ways that parents can reduce their children's chances of smoking.

As reported in the November 2006 issue of Pediatrics, it was found that pre-teens were much less likely to be at risk of smoking or drinking if their parents restricted them from watching R-rated movies and consistently monitored what movies their children watched. Children whose parents restrict movie watching are two-thirds less likely to smoke or drink compared with children with no restrictions on R-rated movie viewing.

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