The most popular students are more likely than their classmates to smoke cigarettes, according to a study of teenagers at seven predominantly Hispanic/Latino high schools in California.
“Popularity is a strong predictor of smoking,” study author Thomas Valente of the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine told HealthDay. “We haven’t done enough to make it cool not to smoke.”
The study found that students who think their friends are smokers, even if they aren’t, are more likely to smoke. The more popular students are, the earlier they are likely to start smoking, the researchers write in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Among adults who smoke, 68 percent began smoking regularly at age 18 or younger, according to the American Lung Association. People who begin smoking at an early age are more likely to develop a severe addiction to nicotine than those who start when they are older. Of teens who have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime, most of them report that they would like to quit, but are not able to do so.
The study included 1,950 students in ninth and tenth grades who were asked about their smoking habits, how many students they thought smoked cigarettes, and how they thought their close friends felt about smoking. They also were asked who their friends were, so the researchers could identify their social networks.
Students’ popularity was measured by how many of their classmates named them as a friend. Teens who thought their close friends smoked were more likely to smoke. Those who smoked tended to be friends with other smokers.