Study: Teen athletes avoid smoking
By Kelsey Anspach, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Young people who play team sports and avoid watching movies featuring smoking are less likely to try tobacco, according to a recent study conducted by the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. The study, published in British Medicine Open on Sept. 12, found individual risk factors to be far more influential in preventing youth smoking than community-based factors such as the accessibility of tobacco outlets.
The study was co-authored by Geisel School of Medicine professor Anna Adachi-Mejia, Norris Cotton Cancer Center researcher Heather Carlos, Geisel School professor Ethan Berke, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center pediatrician Susanne Tanski and Geisel School professor James Sargent.
The research indicated that the most effective way to prevent young people from smoking is targeting individual risk factors. Healthy behaviors such as avoiding from sensation-seeking and peer groups who smoke, participating in sports teams and not watching films that include smoking are correlated with lower rates of teen smoking.
“The most significant finding was that it really matters what kids do in their day-to-day lives,” Adachi-Mejia said. “There are things that parents, coaches, teachers, other caregivers, peers and siblings can do to support you so that you don’t have risk factors for smoking.”
The findings suggest that public health campaigns should focus on minimizing individual risk factors.
“When you think of individual risk factors, you don’t have to think of things directed toward individual kids,” Sargent said. “For example, for sports, the policy could be for schools to try to develop a sports environment that captures 80 percent of the kids, rather than 30 percent. It would be a policy change at the school level.”
The success of such sports programs depends on students feeling welcome on the teams and considering participation to be the norm, according to Adachi-Mejia.
“It’s the notion of the default option,” Adachi-Mejia said. “Default means what’s normal, and the idea is that if the default option is a healthy option, then it’s easier to make a healthy choice.”
There are also effective ways of ensuring that young people are not exposed to smoking in movies, according to Sargent. These include the placement of anti-smoking ads in magazines and movie theaters and tying state film subsidies to the production of smoke-free movies. “At the movie level, a lot of things are going on to decrease smoking, and they’ve been successful,” Sargent said. “For example, there are a lot of states that put out a lot of money for movies to be shot in their states, and states can tie this money to smoke-free movie subsidies.”
Tobacco kills 40,000 people in the United States every year, one-third of whom are middle-aged at the time of their death, according to Sargent.
Adachi-Mejia said that results of the study demonstrate that society is capable of preventing smoking among today’s youth.
“At the end of the day, it’s good to know even though smoking is a huge problem, it’s preventable, and there are huge steps we can take to help stop smoking,” she said.