For smokers who have children, here is yet another reason to stub out that butt for good – a new study has found that kids exposed to smoking parents are more likely to develop the fatal habit themselves.
Given the bad press that smokes have got over the last two or three decades, the study can hardly be called path-breaking. It has long been established that the child of a smoking parent or parents is at increased risk of developing asthma.
But the new research confirms that the more time a child is exposed to a parent who smokes, the more likely it is that the youngster would become a heavy smoker. Kicking the butt early is, therefore, critical to prevent habitual smoking in the next generation, the study noted.
Tobacco was of course the making of America's economy – which only took off only after London discovered the now-dubious pleasures of smoking; and an emigrant population decimated the virgin forests of New England (and incidentally the local populace) in order to grow more of the noxious weed.
The age of the smokers reached its heyday in the 20th century, when smoking was socially acceptable and an affordable way of social bonding – never mind if you choked your lungs in buses, trains or airplanes. But things have changed greatly since then.
"It is difficult to dissuade children from smoking if one or both parents are heavily dependent on cigarettes," said Darren Mays, an assistant professor of oncology at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Centrer in the US who was part of the study.
"It is also important for parents who smoke to know that their children may model the behaviour, particularly if a parent is nicotine dependent."
Nicotine dependence is characterised by strong cravings to smoke, needing more nicotine to feel the same effects and discomfort (withdrawal symptoms) without the drug.
More than 400 parents and their participating adolescent children ages 12-17 were interviewed at the beginning of the study with the children interviewed two more times, one year and then five years later.
The more years a child was exposed to a parent's nicotine dependent smoking (using American Psychiatric Association criteria) the greater the risk that an adolescent would begin smoking or experimenting with cigarettes, the findings showed.
The study highlights that social learning plays an important role in intergenerational smoking. It can help if a smoking parent tells his kids to avoid doing the same, Mays noted in the study that has been published in the journal Pediatrics.