Young children's understandings of cigarette smoking

Dan Freeman, Merrie Brucks, Melanie Wallendorf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Aims: We explore young children's attitudes toward, beliefs about, and life-style associations with cigarette smoking using direct and indirect measures. Design, setting and participants: Second (n = 100) and fifth grade (n = 141) elementary school students (i.e. 7-8 and 10-11-year-olds) were excused from class and individually interviewed. Methods: Participants selected pictures in response to the questions: who would like to smoke cigarettes the most and who would like to smoke cigarettes the least? Their picture choices were probed using open-ended prompts designed to elicit the beliefs and life-style associations underlying their choices. Survey-based measures of attitudes and beliefs were also collected. Findings: Second graders reported life-style associations with cigarette smoking that were consistent with those of fifth graders. While their associations with smoking are generally negative, children appear to perceive that others feel that smoking makes them look cool and feel cool and also helps them to fit in. By fifth grade, many children believe that smoking can help to reduce stress and alleviate negative mood states. The presence of a smoker in the household does not appear to affect these associations, suggesting that they may be being shaped by external socialization agents. Conclusion: Young children appear to be developing understandings of cigarette smoking that go beyond knowing that cigarettes are products that are smoked. As some of their perceptions appear likely to predispose them for future experimentation, young children need to be included in prevention research so that age-appropriate interventions can be developed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1537-1545
Number of pages9
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2005


  • Children
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Life-style associations
  • Socialization agents

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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