Parents who smoke impact children's decision to smoke

February 4, 2009

Parents who smoke may be unknowingly influencing their adolescent children to try smoking as well, new research indicates.

Parents who smoke may be unknowingly influencing their adolescent children to try smoking as well, research in the February issue of Pediatrics indicates.

If youth had tobacco exposure prior to becoming teenagers, they were even more likely to begin smoking later on, according to lead study author Stephen E. Gilman, ScD. Conversely, the risk is eliminated if parents should quit smoking, researchers pointed out.

Evidence has previously supported the notion that smokers' offspring have greater chance of becoming smokers. However, researchers are still analyzing whether one smoking parent has a greater impact on the child than the other parent.

This study evaluated 559 boys and girls ages 12 to 17, along with one parent of each child. A significant 46% of parents indicated some level of nicotine dependence in their lifetime. As for children, 27.8% indicated cigarette use; the prevalence rose with age. Of the 12-year-olds, 7.2% had smoked; a whopping 61.3% of 17-year-olds did.

Research showed that among parents, a mother's smoking impacted risk of sons and daughters smoking as equal, but a father's smoking had a greater effect on boys than girls. Further, fathers who smoked who did not live with their did not increase chance of offspring smoking. The more time the parent had smoked increased the chances of an offspring beginning to smoke.

"What was striking to us is that the effects were strongest at younger ages," Gilman said in a statement. 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. But the adolescents who were 13 and older when their parents smoked were only about 1.7 times more likely to use tobacco.

Researchers add that smoking cessation efforts for families and parents "will not only reduce the parent's smoking but likely reduce smoking uptake in subsequent generations."