IPam was an overweight teenager at 13 years old. She did not have many friends and was picked on constantly. Pam noticed that all the cool kids in school were smoking cigarettes so she decided to try it. Initially, it was not a very pleasant experience. Pam coughed and coughed but she kept practicing until she could smoke a cigarette without coughing. Once she started smoking Pam had a much easier time making friends and fitting in. She’d achieved through smoking what she could not on her own. She was cool and part of a group who considered themselves very special. They thought they were grown up and could make their own decisions about what to do with their bodies. They also believed that smoking was a way of rebelling against parents, teachers and other authority figures who they thought were trying to control them and keep them children forever. Pam thought her parents were hypocrites when they told her not to smoke since both of them smoked and she figured smoking couldn’t be all that bad or her parents would quit. Pam’s two older sisters also smoked which reinforced Pam’s belief that smoking was a socially acceptable and desirable behavior. Pam’s story is the same for teenagers around the world. Many believe that cigarette advertising is the main reason that teenagers choose to smoke but study after study has shown that this is simply not true. Peer pressure, not advertising, is the greatest influence on adolescents who choose to smoke.Risky Business: Why Teenagers Start Smoking
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention concludes that “low socioeconomic status, use and approval of tobacco use by peers or siblings, lack of skills to resist influences to tobacco use, smoking by parents or guardians and/or lack of parental support or involvement, accessibility, availability, and price of tobacco products, a perception that tobacco use is the norm, low levels of academic achievement, low self-image or self-esteem and aggressive behavior (e.g., fighting, carrying weapons) are associated with youth tobacco use” (1). It does not list advertising as something associated to youth tobacco use. Most teenagers do not choose to begin smoking because of cigarette advertisements. The influence of advertising seems to be more about brand identification and influence over brand choice.
Joan Esherick and Mary Ann McDonnell state “Many teens will tell you that friends are the most important things in their lives. Having friends, being accepted, fitting in, being liked—these are all very real needs for all people, even grown-ups, but these needs are especially real for teenagers. The less confident a teenager is about who he is and what he believes, the more pressure he’s likely to feel to be like everyone else” (11). In junior high school and high school there is so much pressure to fit in and be popular. Teenagers have problems fitting in for many reasons including shyness, lack of confidence and low self-esteem. They have trouble with academic performance, do not perform well at sports and feel like outsiders at their school. Smoking provides a way for many teenagers to fit in and make friends. Some teens are even pressured into smoking by other kids their age. Bonnie Graves states “Some teens feel pressured by their peers to smoke. They may not want to smoke but are teased or taunted into doing it. Other teens start smoking because they want to be accepted by a certain group. If they think that group is cool, they want to be cool as well. Smoking becomes their way of being cool” (18). She also states that “Four out of five teens smoke their first cigarette with friends, brothers or sisters, or other teens. Only 11 percent try smoking alone” (Graves 18). Advertisements like “Joe the Camel” and the “Marlboro Man” may influence what brand of cigarettes teenagers smoke but it is not why they start smoking.
Parents who smoke also have a big influence on why teenagers choose to smoke. A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine concluded that “the role of parental smoking in adolescent is present throughout different phases of the acquisition process and thus not restricted to smoking onset. Results support the delayed modeling hypothesis that parental smoking affects the likelihood for children to smoke even when parents quit many years before” (Otten, Engels, de Ven, et al 153). Otten, Engels, de Ven and Bricker suggest in their paper that “The role of parental smoking is not restricted to smoking onset and is present throughout different phases of the acquisition process. Results support the delayed modeling hypothesis that parental smoking affects the likelihood for children to smoke even when parents quit many years before. Children living in single-parent families are only exposed to the behavior of one parent; for children living in two-parent families the behavior from one parent may magnify or buffer the behavior of the other parent” (1). The study suggests that parental influence is often magnified in a single-parent home. Lack of parental involvement also plays a role in the choice to smoke. If teenagers feel their parents are not giving them the attention and guidance they need they will often engage in behaviors designed to attract attention even if it is negative attention. When a parent smokes they signal that smoking is acceptable to a teenager even if their words tell them that they shouldn’t smoke. Young people know hypocrisy when they hear it and are more likely to dismiss lectures on smoking from parents who smoke. Parents who smoke or parents who do not involve themselves in their child’s daily life have far more impact on a teenager’s decision to begin smoking than does advertising.
Siblings who smoke can also have an influence on teenagers, especially an older sibling that the youngster may look up to. Most young people think of their older siblings as role models and try to be just like them. If the older sibling smokes it is quite likely that their younger sibling will follow in their footsteps. In his paper entitled Sibling Effects on Teen Risky Behaviors, Lijing Ouyang maintains that “Teenagers with older siblings who smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or use marijuana are more likely to engage in those risky behaviors themselves. A natural explanation is that siblings are subject to similar family, school and neighborhood influences. An alternative hypothesis of important policy implication is the causal influences of older siblings on younger siblings” (1). Ouyang also states that “When older sibling smokes cigarettes or uses marijuana, the probability that younger sibling smokes cigarettes or uses marijuana increases by 6 percentage points” (1). Ouyang argues that “Sibling effects are more important than the effects of cigarette price and youth access control policies on teen smoking” (1). Many believe that movies that portray characters smoking have an influence on a teenager’s choice to smoke but there are no statistics to back this up. Movies, like advertising, may influence the brand of cigarettes a teenager smokes but studies show that peers and family have far more influence on smoking initiation.
Teenagers also choose to smoke to show how grown up and independent they are. Teens often feel that everyone controls them and some choose to smoke or engage in other risky behavior to prove to themselves that they have some control over their lives. Smoking is often a way of rebelling against authority. As Joan Esherick and Mary Ann McDonnell point out teens think “Smoking makes me look cool, like I’m in charge and can do what I want with my life” (14). Teenagers who feel like outsiders often choose other outsiders to become friends with and they feel as though they need to constantly confront parents, teachers and other authority figures to establish a feeling of control in their lives. In the case study given in the opening paragraph of this paper, Pam and her group of friends thought they were very grown up when they smoked cigarettes, smoked pot and drank alcohol. They considered themselves to be the elite of their school and felt they were more mature than all of the other kids. Smoking and other risky behaviors became a bonding experience that made Pam and her friends feel superior and special.
I The concluding paragraph is:
In conclusion, the fact that peer pressure and family influences are the greatest factor in youth smoking initiation has been proven again and again in study after study. In the case study used in the opening paragraph of this paper, Pam began smoking because she was a lonely, overweight 13 year old girl. Smoking and other risky behaviors gave her an opportunity to fit in for the first time in her life. Parents and siblings smoking added to the perception that smoking was a desirable and acceptable behavior. The vast majority of teenagers who choose to smoke are like Pam. They are lacking in self-esteem, they feel like outsiders at their school, they are terrible at sports and often perform poorly academically. Many teenagers come from single-parent homes which can contribute further to a teenager’s decision to engage in risky behaviors. Everyone knows who Joe the Camel and the Marlboro Man are but most smokers don’t choose to begin smoking because of these advertisements. They choose to smoke because smoking means acceptance and friends. It is easy to blame the media and advertising for America’s ills but they are merely a reflection of society. Choosing to smoke is a risky business and young people choose it because they feel that acceptance and friendship are worth the risks however wrong that may be.