PA) Depressed adolescents who are highly receptive to
tobacco advertising are most vulnerable to experiment
with smoking, a study by researchers from the University
of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Georgetown
University indicates. This finding, published in the
March issue of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology,
leads researchers to believe that tailoring prevention
and intervention efforts to encompass tobacco advertising's
effects and the role of depression could lead to a reduction
in youth smoking.
Approximately 36 percent of all US adolescents are current
smokers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
estimates that five million of today's adolescents will
die prematurely from smoking-related illnesses, creating
approximately $200 billion in future health care costs.
Why so many adolescents start and continue to smoke
despite the associated health risks remains an important
public health question. Previous research has shown
that the nicotine contained in cigarettes is a psychostimulant
and can ameliorate depressive symptoms by inducing feelings
of euphoria and relaxation.
Senior author Janet Audrain, PhD, from the University
of Pennsylvania Cancer Center and Department
of Psychiatry, and researchers from Georgetown University
are exploring the social, psychological and genetic
factors that influence adolescents' decisions about
smoking. Audrain's group surveyed over 1,100 ninth grade
students. These students completed a survey that assessed
current smoking practices, exposure to other smokers,
levels of depression, and receptivity to tobacco advertising.
Demographic data including age, gender, and race/ethnicity
were also collected.
Sixty percent of the students reported
that they were never smokers, i.e., "never tried
or experimented with smoking, even a few puffs."
Forty percent reported ever being smokers, i.e., "ever
smoked at least a partial or whole cigarette."
The data show that adolescents who are exposed to peer
smoking are more likely to smoke themselves. Furthermore,
adolescents who are highly receptive to tobacco advertising
and have clinically significant symptoms of depression
are also more likely to smoke than adolescents without
"It is critically important that adolescents, particularly
those who grow up in households where one or more smokers
are present, receive messages early in life about the
hazards associated with smoking," said Kenneth
P. Tercyak, PhD, study co-investigator and author. In
tailoring these messages to adolescents, it is also
important to consider their current psychological state.
The researchers suggest that anti-tobacco advertising
campaigns designed to dispel myths about the benefits
of smoking as portrayed in tobacco advertisements (i.e.
ads that insinuate the smoking can be a key to happiness
and social success) should incorporate messages about
the possible relationship between depression and smoking.
According to Audrain, such campaigns should also include
messages about "how tobacco companies may be exploiting
those who are psychologically vulnerable to smoke."
This research was funded by the National Cancer Institute
and the National Institute on Drug Abuse and was conducted
by the University of Pennsylvania/Georgetown University
Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center.
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