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September 28, 2007

Working During Adolescence Increases Risk of Smoking

Fourteen to 18-year-old adolescents are at an increased risk to initiate smoking when they start to work, according to researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Investigators found that adolescents who worked more than 10 hours per week also started smoking at an earlier age than their peers. The study authors recommend that the workplace be considered as a location for smoking prevention programs or policies. The study is published in the November 2007 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

“Our findings highlight the importance of working on smoking behaviors of adolescents, which is an area that has not received much attention in current efforts to reduce youth smoking,” said Rajeev Ramchand, PhD, lead author of the study. The research was completed while Ramchand was a PhD candidate in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Mental Health.

Using data from the Baltimore Prevention Intervention Research Center (PIRC) studies, the researchers analyzed work and smoking patterns of the study participants, of which 55 percent were male and 85 percent were African American. The adolescents have been followed since the first grade, which allowed the study authors to review multiple years’ worth of data.

During year 10 of the PIRC studies, 26 percent of the adolescents worked. One year later, close to 40 percent of the adolescents were employed as babysitters, fast food restaurant staff, store clerks and in other retail positions. Tobacco use during this time increased from 13 percent at year 10 to 17 percent at year 11. Adolescents who worked during two consecutive study years and those who started to work during the tenth and eleventh year of the PIRC study were over three times more likely to report tobacco use initiation when compared to their non-working peers.

Adolescents who worked more than 10 hours per week were 13 years old when they first smoked. Surprisingly, adolescents who didn’t work started smoking at 14 and adolescents who worked less than 10 hours each week started smoking at 15.

The study authors also examined other risk factors for smoking—high levels of aggression in first grade, as well as reductions in parent monitoring during late childhood and changes in affiliations with peers who used drugs.

The study results coordinate with the previously published precocious development theory which states that adolescents seek out the rewarding aspects of adulthood ahead of their counterparts by assuming social roles and adult-like behaviors.

“There is a clear relationship between working for pay and adolescent tobacco use. Ensuring that adolescents work in smoke-free environments may be a promising way to prevent some kids from starting to smoke. However, more research is needed to systematically evaluate what features about the workplace, or about working, are most closely linked with adolescent smoking,” said Ramchand, who is now an associate behavioral scientist with the RAND Corporation.

Rajeev Ramchand, Nicholas S. Ialongo and Howard D. Chilcoat, ScD, all with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Mental Health at the time of the research, co-authored the study.

“The Role of Working for Pay on Adolescent Tobacco Use” was funded by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna L. Lowe or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.