Study Points to Earlier Interventions for Teen Smokers


Recent findings by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), in collaboration with colleagues at Wesleyan University, suggest earlier points to intervene in adolescent smoking behavior.

The researchers, led by directed by Robin Mermelstein, professor of psychology and director of the Institute for Health Research and Policy in the UIC School of Public Health, are conducting a longitudinal study of smoking patterns from adolescence into young adulthood to learn why some teens can try smoking and give it up while others become regular smokers.

Mermelstein says their work points to a need for more tailored interventions targeted at teens who show early signs and symptoms for development of nicotine dependence and chronic smoking. Findings from recent papers by her research team include:

  • Teens in early stages of smoking who reported alcohol-related problems such as accidents, blackouts, or missing work or school, were more likely to be regular smokers four years later. Publishing this finding in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the researchers suggest, “treatment of alcohol-related problems may prevent or reduce the early emergence of nicotine dependence among novice smokers.”
  • Teens “may use cigarettes to stabilize mood volatility or to relieve negative moods, and are at risk for progression to problematic use,” the researchers report in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. They suggest that interventions designed to help teen smokers manage their moods may reduce the likelihood of smoking escalation. In particular, girls tend to use smoking to reduce mood volatility while boys are more likely to use it to alleviate depression.
  • At low levels of smoking when nicotine dependence symptoms are less common, smoking quantity is a stronger predictor of increased regularity of smoking, while for more experienced smokers, nicotine dependence predicts further increases in regularity. This finding was published in the March 2013 issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Previously, the researchers had found that some teens do report symptoms of nicotine dependence at very early stages of smoking, a factor which strongly predicted they would become daily smokers two years later.

The study, now in its seventh year of data collection, began when its 1,200 participants were in the ninth and tenth grades of high school. The research is supported as a program project by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (Grant No. P01CA098262). Mermelstein is its principal investigator. Her co-investigators include Lisa Dierker and Jennifer Rose of Wesleyan University’s Department of Psychology, who also contributed to these recent papers.