Peer Pressure and Tobacco Use
No matter how old your children are, peer pressure is an important factor in their decision-making process. In fact, research shows that the influence of peers is especially powerful in determining when and how young people first try cigarettes.1 You may think your child is “too smart” to experience peer pressure, or has a group of friends that provides a positive influence, but all kids are vulnerable.
- The smoking rate among kids who have three or more friends who smoke is 10 times higher than those who report that none of their friends smoke.2
- Peers’ cigarette use makes it more likely that a child will progress from experimental or intermittent smoking to daily smoking.3
- Positive peer pressure also has a strong effect: research has shown that while children may be influenced by their peers to engage in risk behaviors such as smoking, they may also be encouraged to quit.4
So how can you help your child resist peer pressure? Try some of these strategies:
- Let them know you understand. Kids say peer pressure makes them feel like they’re being pulled in two directions—on one hand, they don’t want to do what they’re feeling pressured to do. At the same time, they don’t want to lose their friends if they say no.
- Perceived smoking rates are actually more influential on kids’ decision to smoke than actual smoking rates, and researchers found that over 75% of students overestimated the prevalence of smoking at their school.5 Help your child gain a more accurate perception of reality by sharing your experiences and a more factual perspective.
- If you know one of your child’s friends smokes, have a conversation about it. Ask your child why he thinks his friend does so, and what he thinks about it. Don’t belittle your child’s friend for smoking, but make it clear that you don’t support the behavior.
- Make sure your kids know that they can always call you for a “no-questions-asked-until-later” ride home from a party where others are doing illegal activities, including smoking, drinking, or using drugs.
- See Peer Pressure for more advice on helping your child deal with peer pressure.
- Help your child understand that smokeless tobacco is just as harmful as smoking, a known cause of human cancer, and is strongly associated with leukoplakia. 6
Your child’s friends are one of the strongest influences in her or his life, especially when it comes to risk behaviors like tobacco use. Help prepare your child to deal with peer pressure so that when he or she has to make a decision about tobacco, that decision is a smart, well-informed one.
1. Jennifer O’Loughlin, Igor Karp, Theodoro Koulis, Gilles Paradis, and Joseph DiFranza. Determinants of First Puff and Daily Cigarette Smoking in Adolescents. American Journal of Epidemiology 170 , no. 5 (2009): 585-597.
2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Changing Adolescent Smoking Prevalence, Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph 14 (2001): 85-89.
3. Min Jung Kim, Charles Flemig, and Richard Catalano, “Individual and Social Influences on Progression to Daily Smoking During Adolescence,” Pediatrics 124, no. 3 (2009).
4. Kimberly Maxwell, “Friends: The Role of Peer Influence across Adolescent Risk Behaviors,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 31 no. 4 (2002): 267-277.
5. Jessica Reid, Stephen Manske, and Scott Leatherdale, “Factors Related to Adolescents’ Estimation of Peer Smoking Prevalence,” Health Education Research 23, no. 1 (2008):81-93.
6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Preventing Tobacco Use Among Young People: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 1994 [accessed 2011 Jan 26].
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