Researchers Ask What Can Slow Teen Smoking

September 10, 2012
Lebanon, NH

Teen Smoking graphic

The influences on an adolescent's behavior are illustrated with family and friends at the center and cultural forces on the outer edge.

To prevent lung cancer-the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in this country-children must be discouraged from ever starting smoking. But what's the most effective way to prevent tobacco use in youth? That was the topic tackled recently by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC) researchers. The battlegrounds they explored included sports fields, silver screens, and corner stores.

"We need to keep kids from trying cigarettes-our research along with many other studies has shown that youth smoking is preventable," said Anna Adachi-Mejia, PhD, Cancer Control Research Program, NCCC, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and The Dartmouth Institute.

The researchers set out to determine the best route to take the biggest bite out of teen smoking rates in the paper, "A comparison of individual versus community influence on youth smoking behaviors: a cross-sectional observational study" published in British Medicine Open in September.

The study evaluated a range of factors associated with using tobacco:

Socioeconomic factors like income and education

  • Minority status
  • Whether friends or family members use tobacco
  • Community rates of poverty
  • How many neighborhood stores sell cigarettes
  • Whether the teen is involved in any team sports
  • Exposure to smoking in movies
  • If the teen has sensation seeking personality traits

The research concluded that playing team sports, preventing youth from seeing smoking in the movies, keeping kids away from friends who smoke, and helping adolescents channel their desire to seek out exciting and novel experiences such as sports (instead of smoking) is more important than how poor your neighborhood is or how many tobacco retail outlets exist.

The researchers discovered that the number of corner stores that sell cigarettes or the average cost of a home in a neighborhood is not as significant as the individual daily pressures that teens face: dealing with friends who smoke, seeing glamorized images of smoking in popular films, and managing their own needs, urges, or impulses to explore new, exciting experiences. It is here, inside the life and mind of today's teens where public health campaigns should focus to stop them from trying and using tobacco.

"The challenge to prevent youth smoking is big, but the steps are clear," said Adachi-Mejia. "First, communities should make team sports accessible and available to all youth who are interested in participating. Parents and other caregivers should encourage their kids to play sports. Second, parents and other caregivers should supervise the television programming and movies their children watch. Finally, ask the youth in your life if their friends smoke."

Funding for this research was provided by National Institutes of Health grants: CA77026 and 1K23AG036934

About Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock

Norris Cotton Cancer Center combines advanced cancer research at Dartmouth College and the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth with patient-centered cancer care provided at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock regional locations in Manchester, Nashua, and Keene, NH, and St. Johnsbury, VT, and at 12 partner hospitals throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. It is one of 41 centers nationwide to earn the National Cancer Institute's "Comprehensive Cancer Center" designation. Learn more about Norris Cotton Cancer Center research, programs, and clinical trials online at

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