Why Do Young Adults Start Smoking? Researchers Identify 3 Risk Factors

woman start smoking with...
woman start smoking with...

Considering all we know about cigarettes and their scary health effects, why would anyone start smoking them? While it's impossible to pinpoint a single reason for why any one person begins, a new study identifies three risk factors for taking up the habit.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal School of Public Health, suggests that for people between the ages of 18 and 24, the three biggest risk factors for starting smoking are being impulsive, using alcohol regularly, and getting poor grades in school.

The research, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, is based on data from 1,293 teens from the greater Montreal area who were part of the Nicotine Dependence in Teens study that started in 1999. The teens were followed up in 22 "cycles," from when they were at an average age of 12.7 to when they were at an average age of 24.

By cycle 22, 75 percent of the teens had tried smoking. Forty-four percent of the teens started smoking before entering high school, 43 percent started during high school, and 14 percent started sometime in the six years post-high school.

Not all those who tried cigarettes continued to smoke, but researchers found that impulsivity, poor grades and regular alcohol use were the three risk factors associated with those who began smoking after high school -- or when they were between ages 18 and 24.

Study researcher Jennifer O'Loughlin, a professor at the university, speculated in a statement that one potential reason impulsivity may play a role in smoking in young adulthood is because "parents of impulsive children exercise tighter control when they are living with them at home to protect their children from adopting behaviors that can lead to smoking, and this protection may diminish over time."

Alcohol consumption could also be linked with starting smoking because alcohol "reduces inhibitions and self-control," she added in the statement.

O'Loughlin noted that the findings suggest smoking prevention programs shouldn't just target teens, but young adults also. "The predictors of initiation in young adults may provide direction for relevant preventive interventions," she and co-authors wrote in the study.

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