Smoking Bans May Prevent Teens From Becoming Established Smokers
> 5/8/2008 11:20:28 AM

Laws that ban smoking in restaurants may have an important impact on the smoking habits of local teens, researchers from Boston University School of Public Health report in a study of 2,217 Massachusetts teenagers, aged 12 through 17. Their findings, which appear in this month's issue of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, demonstrate that smoking bans can influence whether or not teens smoke.

To better understand the influence of smoking bans on specific stages teens move through as they become smokers, the researchers focused on three categories of cigarette use: non-smoking, experimental smoking (defined as having smoked less than 100 cigarettes), and established smoking (having smoked 100 cigarettes or more). The subjects were interviewed about their smoking behavior between 2001 and 2002, and they were reinterviewed two years later and then again after another two years had passed. The collected data represented over 300 towns in Massachusetts, where a state-wide smoking ban did not go into effect until 2004.

Over the course of the study, 9.3 percent of the subjects became established smokers, and this rate varied depending on the strength of laws regulating smoking in restaurants. Of subjects living in towns with weak regulations, where smoking was restricted to specific areas or not restricted at all, 9.6 percent transitioned to established smoking, while this rate was only 7.9 percent in towns that banned smoking in restaurants completely. When looking at the stages of smoking progression separately, the researchers found that the strength of smoking bans had no effect on the transition from non-smoking to experimental smoking, but subjects living in towns with strong smoking bans were significantly less likely to move from experimental smoking to established smoking. The strength of smoking bans was most influential among younger teens, with the largest effect seen in those under 15.

Many factors influence teenaged smoking, and while studies often focus on the factors that are specific to an individual, such as having a friend or parent who smokes, this study demonstrates the importance of also considering factors based in an individual's community. While subjects in this study who had a friend or parent who smoked were more likely to be experimental smokers, this factor had no influence on the transition from experimental to established smoking. Smoking bans did have a large effect on this transition, perhaps because in towns with strong regulations, teens are less likely to be exposed to smoking behavior in their environment. The researchers surmise that less exposure reinforces the harmful nature of smoking and keeps teens from viewing smoking as a normal and socially acceptable activity.

While this study may have important implications, further research must be conducted to see if these results apply to teens living in other parts of the country. The Massachusetts state government banned smoking in restaurants, bars, and workplaces in 2004, and they followed these state-wide regulations with an aggressive anti-smoking campaign, and smoking bans may not have the same effect in states that do not take such an active approach to discourage smoking. Still, smoking bans are an important way to maintain a healthy environment within restaurants and bars, and continued study should clarify their role in teens' smoking habits.

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