TEEN SMOKING, by location

TEEN SMOKING, by location

Researchers have found that when it comes to preventing young people from smoking, location may be key.

It matters where you live, especially if you’re a 14-year-old who’s in danger of taking up smoking, says SPH research investigator Yange Xue. Teens who live in neighborhoods with a higher percentage of African-American residents are significantly less likely to begin smoking than those who live in predominantly white neighborhoods—and it makes no difference whether the teen in question is white or black.

The reason? Xue and her colleagues in the Flint Adolescent Study, a longitudinal survey of more than 800 ninth-graders in Flint, Michigan, think it has to do with social collective efficacy—the degree to which neighbors can be counted on to help one another. Black adults are more likely than whites to voice their disapproval of adolescent smoking, so teens who live in predominantly African-American neighborhoods are less likely to take up smoking.

By contrast, both black and white adolescents who live in predominantly white neighborhoods are more susceptible to the lure of tobacco. Xue suspects this is because white youths are more influenced by their fellow teens than by adults, and black adolescents who live in largely white neighborhoods tend to emulate their white peers.

More than 80 percent of adult smokers begin in adolescence, so “it’s a public health priority to find factors associated with this,” Xue says. She’s also found that teens who live in high-risk neighborhoods but are involved in social activities through school, church, or their community are less susceptible to cigarettes. “It underlines the importance of an ecological model of prevention,” she says. In a future study, she plans to see if the same patterns hold for alcohol and marijuana use.

To learn more

  • www.cdc.gov (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006
  • U.S. Census, 2000

Send correspondence about this or any Findings article to the editor at sph.findings@umich.edu. You will be contacted if your letter is considered for publication.

factCHECK, 2007

  • In 2003, 22% of U.S. teens (15% black, 25% white) were current smokers.
  • The city of Flint, Michigan, is 50% African-American, but its public schools are 80% African-American.
  • As of December 2006, the unemployment rate in Flint was 7.8%, as compared to 6.9% in the rest of Michigan.
  • According to 2000 census data, approximately 22.9% of families in Flint and 26.4% of the city’s population were below the poverty line