Popular high school students are more likely to smoke cigarettes than their less popular peers, according to a new study from USC and the University of Texas, which interviewed teens at seven different schools in Southern California. These findings confirmed earlier research done by USC, that found similar trends in sixth to 12th grade students in Mexico and the U.S.
“That we’re still seeing this association more than 10 years later, despite marginal declines in smoking, suggests that popularity is a strong predictor of smoking behavior,” said Thomas W. Valente, Ph.D., professor of preventive medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine, in a statement.
The most recent study included a survey of almost 2,000 ninth and tenth grade students, who were asked a variety of questions about cigarettes, smoking habits and their best friends at school. Researchers found that popular students started smoking earlier than non-popular students, and that people who thought their best friends smoked were more likely to do so also.
“Adolescence is a time when students turn to others to figure out what is important. These are four different samples, now, coming from different places — and the finding is consistent,” said Valente in a press release.
This research, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, focused mostly on Latino students in California, and helps further similar research done this year in Jalisco, Mexico.
Many habitual smokers begin smoking cigarettes in their teens. According to the American Lung Association, 68 percent of adult smokers began doing so regularly at the age of 18 or younger; 85 percent started when they were 21 or younger.
In order to further discourage tobacco consumption, new requirements from the Food and Drug Administration go into effect next month, which will require tobacco companies to put graphic warning labels on packs of cigarettes. Although cigarettes are already required to display text warnings of the health effects of smoking, the new labels will feature vivid images of the damage smoking can do. Pictures include a side-by-side comparison of healthy lungs and a smoker's lungs, and a picture of damaged, crumbling yellow teeth.