Most smokers are very aware of the damage they are doing to their own health – and know that others can also suffer though passive smoking.
But a worrying new study reveals that smoking infront of children not only passes on the harmful effects of the smoke in the air – it can also get them hooked on cigarettes.
A Concordia and University of Montreal study published in the Oxford journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, found that tweens who repeatedly observe a parent, sibling, friend or neighbur consuming cigarettes are more likely to start smoking themselves.
‘Kids who see others smoking are more likely to take up the habit because they don’t perceive cigarettes as unhealthy,’ says lead study author Simon Racicot, of Concordia University’s Department of Psychology.
‘We found that kids who’d never smoked who were exposed to tobacco use were more likely to hold positive beliefs about the killer habit. These are the kids who are more likely to start smoking as teenagers.’
This new investigation builds on previous studies examining the negative effects of being surrounded by smokers.
Senior author Jennifer J. McGrath, a professor in the Concordia University Department of Psychology said around 60 per cent of children are exposed to secondhand smoke across North America.
‘Greater exposure to smokers is largely associated with greater exposure to nicotine,’ she said.
‘Children exposed to the same amounts of secondhand smoke as adults absorb higher doses of nicotine.
‘Early findings suggest that secondhand smoke exposure could possibly trigger addiction in the brain – before kids actually start smoking themselves.’
For the study, 327 11-13 year olds enrolled in French-language public schools were questioned about their smoking habits, the number of smokers in their entourage and the situations where they observed smoking.
‘Preteens who were surrounded by more smokers believed that there are greater advantages to smoking,’ says Racicot.
‘Therefore, smoking by parents, siblings, and friends increases risk factors for later smoking.’
The researchers argue that new prevention efforts must be tailored to children who are highly exposed to secondhand smoke – ensuring they are aware of the risks.
The general public also needs to be informed about how smoking around youth normalizes the dangerous habit.
‘When it comes to smoking around kids, the best thing a parent can do is to avoid exposing their kids to cigarettes and to secondhand smoke,’ says Racicot.
‘A parent should step outside of their home or car to smoke. And the addictive habit should remain out of sight, out of breath and out of mind.’