As a parent, I never wished popularity on my children; it takes a lot of work to stay on top. And researchers have come up with a reason I hadn’t thought of: Popular kids are more likely to smoke cigarettes, they say.
The conclusion, published Wednesday in the Journal of Adolescent Health, is based on surveys among teenagers in ninth and 10th grades at seven predominantly Latino high schools in the Los Angeles area. It confirms previous studies about high school students in the U.S. and Mexico.
Thomas Valente, a professor of preventive medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, and colleagues asked 1,950 students whether they had tried smoking and how frequently they’d smoked in the last month. They also asked the students how they thought their friends felt about smoking, the smoking habits of their peers, and who their five best friends were. The frequency a student was identified as a friend was used to measure popularity.
Among ninth graders, 25.6% reported smoking; among 10th graders, it was 28.1%.
The researchers found that students’ perceptions of their peers’ behavior mattered as much as whether or not they actually smoked.
If you thought all the antismoking messages had made smoking less popular, that’s true. But it’s also still true in many places that smoking and popularity go hand-in-hand, Valente said.