Peer pressure continues to prompt high school students to light up, new research suggests, because popular teens tend to smoke and they induce others to take up the habit in an effort to fit in and be liked.
"Popularity is a strong predictor of smoking," said study author Thomas Valente, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine. "We haven't done enough to make it cool not to smoke."
The finding, published online Sept. 6 in the Journal of Adolescent Health, confirms trends Valente found in previous research studying smoking in students in sixth through 12th grade across the United States and in Mexico.
The new research found that the most popular kids in seven predominantly Hispanic/Latino high schools in southern California were more likely to smoke cigarettes than were other students. It turns out that just thinking your friends are smokers -- even if they aren't -- makes you more likely to smoke. And the more popular you are, the earlier you're likely to start.
"It's the popularity that's a risk factor for smoking, and it's very disturbing," said Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association and a professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, in New York.
In the study, popularity was measured by how often the students named someone as a friend. Those who thought their close friends smoked were more likely to be smokers, too, and those who smoked tended to form friendships with others who smoked as well.
Source: U.S. News & World Report