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Step-parents influence teenage smoking behaviour

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by Cancer Research UK | News

25 February 2008

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Smoking by a non-biological parent is as influential as smoking by biological parents in determining whether their teenager smokes, reveal the results of a Cancer Research UK study published in the journal Addiction*.

Researchers based at Cancer Research UK’s Health Behaviour Research Centre at University College London, interviewed 650 teenagers from 36 schools in South London who reported living in step-families. The students were participating in a five-year ‘Health and Behaviour in Teenagers Study’ (HABITS) and were assessed annually from age 11-12 to age 15-16.

They had to report their smoking status – which was verified by a test to measure the level of cotinine in their saliva – cotinine is a by-product of nicotine and indicator of tobacco smoke exposure. They also had to report if their parents smoked, and if they lived with a step-parent, whether that step parent smoked.

Lead researcher, Jennifer Fidler, said: “The influence of smoking by parents on whether their children smoke is well known – teenagers with one or more parent who smokes are much more likely to smoke than those with no smoking parents. But we think this is first study to examine the extent to which the smoking behaviour of step-parents predicts adolescent smoking behaviour.

“Our findings confirm the importance of social influence on whether young people start to smoke, and suggests that step-parents, as well as parents should play a role in smoking prevention.”

Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “Smoking is a serious problem among young people – 16 per cent of boys and 24 per cent of girls aged 15 are regular smokers – so we welcome any new research that looks at why teenagers may start to smoke.

“Children whose parents smoke are much more likely to become adult smokers, greatly increasing their risk of cancer in later life – so we hope this research will encourage both parents and step-parents to try and quit smoking altogether.”


For more information, please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 0207 061 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059