The following post is a conversation with Ray Niaura, PhD, Associate Director for Science at Legacy’s Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies. Dr. Niaura has recently completed a study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics, showing a relationship between exposure to parental smoking and adolescent nicotine addiction.

You began this study several years ago as a professor at Brown University. What prompted you to look into parental smoking? What did you expect to see and why?

We were interested in whether and how parents’ behavior, in particular their own tobacco use, might influence their children’s chances of starting to smoke. There had been some studies that suggested this could be true, and it seems to make a lot of sense, but it hadn’t been studied extensively. We had the opportunity to look at this in the New England Family Study, which is a multi-generational study of parents and children. 

Ray Niaura headshot

How did the results compare?

We found that, indeed, parents’ smoking influenced their children’s smoking, but in a number of interesting ways. For example, mothers’ smoking was more likely to influence their daughters’ smoking, and fathers’ smoking was more likely to influence their sons. 

What was the most interesting finding?

The most interesting and potentially useful finding was that the duration of parents’ smoking was associated with the patterns of progression seen in the children. Children of parents who smoked for more years were more likely to start smoking sooner, and to accelerate their smoking more quickly to heavier levels. But children of parents who had smoked and quit, even if their parents were very dependent smokers, were less likely to start and if they did start smoking were more likely to only experiment, not progress.

Did the adolescents provide any anecdotal evidence or comments about their parents’ smoking?

Most of the children of smokers wished that their parents would stop. Some, though, said that they would probably grow up to be a smoker, like their mom or dad.

What implications could your findings have on the role of tobacco control advocates?

I think the results of this, and other studies, tells us that parental smoking is an extremely important influence on youth smoking. If we think about ways to prevent youth from smoking, we should be sure to pay attention to what their parents do. If their parents are smokers, we should consider encouraging them to quit, and offering them treatment, not only for their own health but also for the health of their children.

Watch Dr. Niaura discuss the study and its implications here


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