Public Release: 

Teens with positive role models and religion less likely to use tobacco

Center for Advancing Health

Positive role models among both peers and adults, along with religious activity, may help protect young people from using tobacco, shows new research.

The study, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, is the first to look at the relationship between specific positive health influences in teens' lives and tobacco use.

"Nine out of every 10 adults who smoke began using tobacco before they reached their 18th birthdays," says the study's lead author, Leslie A. Atkins, Ph.D., of the Department of Health Promotion Sciences at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. "Therefore, to reduce tobacco use overall we need to find new ways to curb adolescent tobacco use."

In recent years, Atkins and colleagues explain, some public health professionals have begun exploring the link between youth risk reduction and protective influences - or youth assets - such as parent-adolescent communication and decision-making skills.

The researchers interviewed parents and their teenage children, age 13 to 19, in 1,350 randomly selected households in inner-city neighborhoods in the Midwest. The interviewers gathered information about demographics, the teens' self-reported tobacco use during the past 30 days and the presence of 10 "youth assets."

The assets studied were: family communication, peer role models, future aspirations, responsible choices, community involvement, cultural respect, exercise and nutrition, participation in organized groups, participation in religious activities and non-parental adult role models. The teens who had at least one asset were significantly less likely to report smoking, dipping or chewing tobacco during the past 30 days than were those who had no assets.

Spending time in religious-related activities and having positive peer role models appeared to have the greatest protective effects against tobacco use. The youth with either of those two assets were 2.5 times less likely to report tobacco use than were those without the asset. Also those youth who had aspirations for the future or were good at making responsible choices were twice as likely eschew tobacco use than those without those assets.

The results also show that younger teens, teens who live in two-parent households and teens who are not white are least likely to use tobacco. Higher parental income and having at least one parent with a bachelor's degree were also associated with non-use of tobacco among the teens.

"These results suggest that adolescents are less likely to engage in harmful behaviors if positive youth assets are present," Atkins notes. "Based on these and other study results, it appears that taking a positive, asset-based approach may help reduce tobacco use and other risky behaviors among young people."


The study was supported through a cooperative agreement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded to the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.

The American Journal of Health Promotion is a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the field of health promotion. For information about the journal call (248) 682-0707 or visit the journal's website at

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