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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 22, 2007 | Vol. 37 No. 8
Study: Working During Adolescence Increases Risk of Smoking

By Kenna Lowe
Bloomberg School of Public Health

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 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, lead author of the study. The research was completed while Ramchand was a doctoral candidate in the Bloomberg School's Department of Mental Health.

Using data from the Baltimore Prevention Intervention Research Center studies, the researchers analyzed work and smoking patterns of the study participants, 55 percent of whom were male and 85 percent, African-American. The adolescents have been followed since the first grade, so the study authors were able to review multiple years' worth of data.

During year 10 of the PIRC studies, 26 percent of the adolescents worked, and one year later, close to 40 percent 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 10th and 11th year of the PIRC study were more than three times more likely to report tobacco use initiation when compared to their nonworking peers.

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

Other risk factors for smoking that the study authors examined were high levels of aggression in first grade, reduction 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 adultlike 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 Corp.

Ramchand, Nicholas S. Ialongo and Howard D. Chilcoat, all with the Bloomberg School'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.


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