Social Networks and Smoking

 A woman smokes a cigarette outside a building, at dawn.

A simulation-based research project found that peer influences and smoker popularity had more pronounced effects on high school students’ smoking than on cessation.

The Issue:
Adolescence is a critical time for smoking initiation, as well as a time for interventions to prevent smoking and encourage cessation. While longitudinal studies have been conducted on the influence of friends on teen smoking, such studies can involve prohibitive data collection efforts. These researchers used a dynamic simulation model to explore how peer influence and smoker popularity affect smoking dynamics in high school students.

Key Findings

  • Researchers based peer influence on the assumption that students tend toward their friends' average level of smoking and considered how smoking behavior would be altered if that influence was made even stronger.

  • As smoking-based popularity increased, student smoking prevalence increased through more students starting and fewer quitting. When smokers were unpopular, however, smoking prevalence decreased and cessation increaseds, although to a lesser degree.

The effectiveness of smoking treatment programs could be evaluated using a similar modeling approach.

About the Study:
Researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and studied 509 students in one high school.