Adolescents Progress from Experimental to Regular Tobacco Use for Varied Reasons

Analysis of multiple data sets for predictors of different stages of tobacco use among adolescents

In 1996, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago examined the similarities and differences among predictors of different stages of smoking for adolescents:

  • Abstinence (never use).
  • Trying (trying tobacco once but never again).
  • Experimentation (using the product multiple times, on an irregular basis, over a brief or long period of time).
  • Regular use.

Key Findings

Using data sets from California and Indianapolis, researchers found:

  • There are gender differences in the prevalence of smoking. In females, the percentage of students who were classified as regular smokers was substantially higher among those with a high level of family conflict when compared to those with a low level of family conflict (17.7% versus 7.1%). For males, these differences were slight.
  • In both males and females, students who had smoking friends were more likely to be classified as triers/experimenters and regular smokers. The effect was stronger for females.
  • Male students who are risk-takers are more likely to make the transition from trial to experimental use than non-risk-taking males. That is not true for females.
  • Black students try smoking later than white students. They were also less likely than others to have experimented after trying and less likely to have become regular smokers after experimenting. In both samples, parental smoking distinguished regular smokers from experimenters.
  • Those who did not do well in school were more likely to smoke.
  • Parental smoking and parent-child conflicts were consistent and strong predictors of the transition from experimenting to regular smoking for females.
  • In the initial stages of smoking (trying and experimenting), peer influences and alcohol use seem to be the most important influences.