Social-Emotional Contexts of Adolescent Smoking Patterns (Program Project)

Also known as

Piece by Piece: Making Health Connections


To increase our understanding of the patterns of adolescent smoking from experimentation onward; to track the natural history of these patterns and to examine in-depth some selected contextual factors, especially social-emotional contexts, that may influence them.

This project tracks adolescents from 16 Chicago area high schools over time to understand the different pathways to tobacco dependence and identify ways to improve intervention.


Despite almost three decades of attention to the problem of adolescent smoking, relatively little attention has been paid to addressing the question of how adolescents progress from experimentation to subsequent stages of use, and what predicts transitions up or down at each level. The overall goal of this program project is to increase our understanding of the patterns of adolescent smoking. Our hope is to track the natural history of these patterns and to examine in-depth some key, selected contextual factors that may influence them. Our focus is on the social-emotional contexts with an emphasis on depression, anxiety, problem behaviors, and positive affective domains. As a program project, we are examining the intersections of these social and emotional domains. The cornerstone of this program project is the establishment and maintenance of a high-quality cohort of adolescents. Our design in establishing this cohort draws on elements of both epidemiology and developmental psychology, and may be thought of as an "accelerated developmental trajectory of smoking." We are developing our sample in a planned way, maximizing our ability to study movement across levels or stages of smoking. Our program project comprises three research projects and three cores.

The three research projects are:

  1. Proximal Contexts of Adolescent Smoking Patterns (Robin Mermelstein, P.I.)
  2. Developmental Influences on Adolescent Smoking Patterns (Lauren Wakschlag, P.I.)
  3. Nicotine's Effect on Emotion in Adolescent Smokers (Jon Kassel, P.I.)

All three projects utilize a common core cohort to test broad-based hypotheses, and in addition, each project utilizes a state-of-the-art, in-depth measurement modality to examine intensively key constructs on a sub-sample of the cohort. Across the projects, we are using a combination of ecological momentary assessments through the use of hand-held computers (Project 1), family observations of parent-adolescent discussions and interactions (Project 2), and psycho-physiological reactions of adolescents to smoking in controlled laboratory settings (Project 3). State-of-the-art analytic techniques explore the intersections of these variables.

Three cores allow us to develop a series of integrated, cross-project analyses and papers that address how combinations of variables across projects (e.g., family, peer, situational/contextual, emotional) conjoin with each other in producing the patterns of adolescent smoking from experimentation onward. These cores support the basic functions of the program project, including the establishment and maintenance of the cohort.  The cores are:

  1. Scientific/Administrative Core (Robin Mermelstein, director)
  2. Recruitment and Retention Core (Susan Curry, original director, and Kathi Diviak, co-investigator)
  3. Data Management, Measurement, and Statistics Core (Donald Hedeker, director)

A supplemental grant awarded by NCI in August 2009 adds one post-age 18, or post-high school, follow-up to an established cohort of high-risk adolescnets to track changes in smoking during this transition time. Understanding factors that influence changes in smoking during this vulnerable period of young adulthood is important for the development of interventions.

Learn the latest about this longitudinal study:

Social-Emotional Contexts of Adolescent and Young Adult Smoking Patterns
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About this grant

This is a PO1, a research program project, which encompasses three studies and three cores. A renewal grant funds continuation of this research through 2015.

Related publications

Heinz AJ, Kassel JD, Berbaum M, Mermelstein R. Adolescents' expectancies for smoking to regulate affect predict smoking behavior and nicotine dependence over time. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2010 Sep 1;111(1-2):128-35. [See abstract.]

Dierker L, Mermelstein R. Early emerging nicotine-dependence symptoms: A signal of propensity for chronic smoking behavior in adolescents. J Pediatr. 2010 May;156(5):818-22. [See abstract.]

Gibbons RD, Hedeker D, DuToit S. Advances in analysis of longitudinal data. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2010 Apr 27;6:79-107. [See abstract.]

Mermelstein RJ, Colvin PJ, Klingemann SD. Dating and changes in adolescent cigarette smoking: Does partner smoking behavior matter? Nicotine Tob Res. 2009 Oct;11(10):1226-30. [See abstract.]

Sterling KL, Mermelstein R, Turner L, Diviak K, Flay B, Shiffman S. Examining the psychometric properties and predictive validity of a youth-specific version of the Nicotine Dependence Syndrome Scale (NDSS) among teens with varying levels of smoking. Addict Behav. 2009 Jun-Jul;34(6-7):616-619.

Rathouz PJ, Gao L. Generalized linear models with unspecified reference distribution. Biostatistics. 2009 Apr;10(2):205-18.

Hedeker D, Mermelstein RJ, Berbaum ML, Campbell RT. Modeling mood variation associated with smoking: an application of a heterogeneous mixed-effects model for analysis of ecological momentary assessment (EMA) data. Addiction. 2009 Feb;104(2):297-307. [See abstract.]

Curry SJ, Mermelstein RJ, Sporer AK. Therapy for specific problems: youth tobacco cessation. Annu Rev Psychol. 2009;60:229-55. Review. [See abstract.]

Hedeker D, Demirtas H, Mermelstein RJ. A mixed ordinal location scale model for analysis of Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) data. Stat Interface. 2009;2(4):391-401.

Weinstein SM, Mermelstein R, Shiffman S, Flay B. Mood variability and cigarette smoking escalation among adolescents. Psychol Addict Behav. 2008 Dec;22(4):504-13. [See abstract.]

Hedeker D, Mermelstein RJ, Demirtas H. An application of a mixed-effects location scale model for analysis of Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) data. Biometrics. 2008 Jun;64(2):627-34.  [See abstract.]

Hedeker D, Mermelstein RJ, Demirtas H. Analysis of binary outcomes with missing data: missing = smoking, last observation carried forward, and a little multiple imputation. Addiction. 2007 Oct;102(10):1564-73. [See abstract.]

Weinstein SM, Mermelstein RJ, Hedeker D, Hankin BL, Flay BR. The time-varying influences of peer and family support on adolescent daily positive and negative affect. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2006 Sep;35(3):420-30. [See abstract.]

Diviak KR, Wahl SK, O'Keefe JJ, Mermelstein RJ, Flay BR. Recruitment and retention of adolescents in a smoking trajectory study: who participates and lessons learned. Subst Use Misuse. 2006;41(2):175-82.

Wahl SK, Turner LR, Mermelstein RJ, Flay BR. Adolescents' smoking expectancies: psychometric properties and prediction of behavior change. Nicotine Tob Res. 2005 Aug;7(4):613-23.

News releases

Grant to Study Why Teens Smoke (November 17, 2004)