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Smokers’ and women's beliefs on the risk of children becoming smokers if parents are smokers


Correspondence to: Ms Julie Bradshaw, College of Health and Human ServicesCentral Queensland University, Bruce Highway, North Rockhampton, Queensland 4072. Fax: (07) 4930 9871; e-mail: j.bradshaw@cqu.edu.au

The number of people who smoked daily in Australia declined by almost 30% between 1999 and 2004.1 However, 17.4% of Australians still smoked in 20041 and, of concern, 10.7% of adolescents aged between 14 and 19 smoked daily.1 As the majority of smokers develop a dependence upon tobacco before reaching adulthood, it can be questioned whether a free and informed decision is made to start smoking. It is therefore important for health promoters to identify knowledge gaps that may contribute towards the uptake of smoking in young people2. Parental smoking is one factor that has been shown to be associated with onset of smoking in adolescents.4-10 We sought to determine if there is gender difference between the beliefs of women and men and those between smokers and non-smokers on whether children have an increased risk of smoking if one or both parents smoke.

A cross-sectional descriptive study was conducted at Central Queensland University, Australia. The study population was randomly selected from central Queensland residents 18 years and older from October to November 20053. Of the 1,197 participants, 21% (n=255) classified themselves as smokers. For the smoking group, there was no statistical difference between the percentage of male (21%; n=125) and female (22%; n=130) smokers (p=0.76). The majority of the participants in the study agreed with the statement “Children are more likely to begin smoking if one or more parents smoke” (66.8%; n=786). Bivariate logistic regressions were used to determine the association between this belief, gender, and smoking status. When odds ratios were adjusted for age, gender, education and household income, it revealed that females were 33% less likely than males to agree with the statement and smokers 68% less likely than non-smokers to agree (see Table 1).

Table 1.  Prevalence and associations between smoking behaviour and agreement with statement ‘Children are more likely to begin smoking if one or more parents smoke’.
Variable% Agree95% CIAdjusteda,b OR95% CI
  1. Note:

  2. (a) Mutually adjusted for all other variables in table.

  3. (b) n=849.

  4. CI = confidence interval.

Total sample66.864.1-69.5
Age group (n=1,175)    
 18-34 years69.063.3-74.71.00Reference
 35-44 years61.856.2-67.50.870.55-1.36
 45-54 years65.860.1-71.50.920.58-1.44
 ≥55 years69.865.1-74.50.820.51-1.32
Years of education    
Household income   
 <$300 per week65.858.5-73.21.00Reference
 $300-$699 per week64.757.9-71.60.790.49-1.27
 $700-$999 per week69.864.8-74.90.920.58-1.47
 $1,000 or more per week71.965.0-78.70.890.52-1.50
Smoking behaviour    

These results indicate a potential lack of knowledge by women and smokers on the relationship between parental smoking and the strong likelihood that their children will also be smokers. It seems highly plausible that children and adolescents will learn smoking behaviours from their parents. Children may learn from observing their parents how to light a cigarette, how to inhale, what to do with ash, and where and when it is appropriate to smoke. A number of studies have shown that this is the case and in fact parental smoking has been seen as one of the strongest predictors of adolescent smoking.4-10 Indeed, it is suggested that any history of regular smoking by parents is a salient predictor of adolescent smoking.11

The impact of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) on children from parents who smoke has been widely promoted, with some success. There are increasing numbers of smoke-free homes and many parents who smoke are aware of the harmful effects of ETS on children.12 Indeed, decreasing the potential harm from ETS on children has been enacted into policy, with South Australia recently banning smoking in cars when child passengers are present.13 Health promoters should take heed of the success of the ETS message with parents and seek to promote the association between parental smoking and the likelihood that their children will also smoke and, in particular, target women and smokers.

This study suggests that future health promotion strategies aimed at youth tobacco prevention should consider targeting smokers and women by challenging erroneous beliefs on the relationship between parental and children's uptake of smoking.