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Factors Associated with Likelihood of Tobacco Use [20]

Lori Caputo,
Concerned Parent

Numerous factors influence adolescents' decisions to start smoking or to use other tobacco products. These factors include some individual characteristics, such as stress and low self-esteem, but also social characteristics, such as having parents, siblings, or friends who smoke. Exposure and susceptibility to tobacco advertising can also affect smoking initiation among adolescents. Nearly all tobacco use begins in youth and young adulthood—88% of adult daily smokers smoked their first cigarette before turning 18. Approximately 18% of high school students smoke cigarettes. Nearly 10% use smokeless tobacco, and young people who use smokeless tobacco are more likely to become cigarette smokers as adults.

Certain characteristics increase the likelihood that an adolescent will smoke:

Older age. Rates of regular cigarette smoking and other tobacco use are higher among older adolescents than they are among younger adolescents (although the rate of smoking initiation is higher among younger adolescents).

Being male. Females tend to smoke fewer cigarettes a day, use cigarettes with lower nicotine content, and inhale cigarette smoke less deeply than do males.

Adolescents who are multi-ethnic, as well as American-Indian and Alaska Natives, are more likely than any other race or ethnic group to use tobacco.

Lacking college plans. Adolescents who plan to attend four years of college are much more likely to be nonsmokers than are their peers who lack such plans.

Having parents who are not college educated. Adolescents whose parents had little or no college education are much more likely to smoke than those whose parents have a college education or more.

Experiencing highly stressful events. Having experienced numerous highly stressful events in childhood is linked with a greater risk of starting smoking by age 14 and with ever smoking. Among these stressors are being a witness or victim of abuse, experiencing a parental separation, or growing up in a household in which a family member is mentally ill or incarcerated.

By helping teens and young adults avoid using tobacco, we will help them live longer and healthier lives. We can make the next generation tobacco free. For more information, click on the links below:

Risk & Protective Factors - Is your child at risk of using or becoming addicted to tobacco? Learn the signs and factors in this Office of Adolescent Health (OAH) resource.

Talk to Your Kids about Tobacco, Alcohol, and Drugs - Learn the basics and start a conversation with your kids about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Use this resource as your guide.

Talk With Your Teen - Get tips for talking about tobacco and tobacco use with your teen from this OAH resource.

Ideas for Getting Started - Unsure how to start a conversation about tobacco use with your kids? Get tips in this OAH resource.