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Science & Tech

Smoking Bans Are Forever

Your Body, Your Life: News from the Medical Campus


Photo by Rupert Ganzer

What’s up?
As public smoking bans become increasingly common across the United States, private homes are following suit: the proportion of U.S. households with smoke-free home rules increased from 43 percent in 1993 to 72 percent in 2003. Now, a recent study led by BU School of Public Health researchers demonstrates that children who grow up in households with smoking bans are more likely to move into a smoke-free residence once they leave home.

What was found
The study, published in the journal Tobacco Control, found that young adults who lived in smoke-free parental homes were more than 12 times more likely to choose smoke-free housing or set no-smoking rules in their own residences, whether they live independently or in college dormitories.

The researchers — including Alison Albers, an assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences at SPH and the study’s lead author, Michael Siegel, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at SPH, and Debbie Cheng, an SPH associate professor of biostatistics — analyzed data on 693 youths, culled from a four-year study of a representative sample of Massachusetts adolescents who were between ages 12 and 17 in 2001 and 2002. All of the youths moved out of their parental households and were living independently, some at colleges or universities and others in apartments or other residences. Those who said that both occupants and visitors were not allowed to smoke inside their living quarters were categorized as having a household smoking ban in their independent residences.

The study found that overall, 82.3 percent of youths who moved out of their parents’ homes moved to smoke-free living quarters, and that 88.7 percent of those who moved to smoke-free living quarters came from a smoke-free home. In comparison, 17.7 percent moved to living quarters where smoking was permitted — and of that group, 36.4 percent came from homes where smoking was allowed.

Why it matters
Last summer, Albers and her colleagues published a study that found that youths living in households with a smoking ban had stronger antismoking attitudes, and that those who lived with nonsmokers were less likely to experiment with cigarettes; the new study goes a step further, she says, by examining the long-term impact of a parental smoking ban on choices made outside the home.

“This basic intervention — implementing a household smoking ban — not only has the potential to promote antismoking norms and to prevent adolescent smoking, but also may have the additional benefit of transmitting antismoking norms from parents to children as they transition out of the household,” she says. “The fact that we found this effect even among smokers is very promising.”

Word to the wise
The researchers found that moving to college housing or not living with smokers also influenced the smoking policy of a youth’s residence at follow-up. But they noted that most colleges do not have smoke-free residential housing policies, so the majority of college students can choose what type of smoking policy to abide by.

Where to find out more
The study, coauthored by Lois Biener of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Center for Survey Research and Nancy Rigotti of Massachusetts General Hospital, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, was funded by grants from the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute and the National Cancer Institute’s State and Community Tobacco Control Interventions Research Grant Program. The abstract is available here.

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