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When it Comes to Tobacco,Teens Do Weigh Pros and Cons

February 10, 2009

UC Merced Psychologist Finds Teen Smokers View Smoking as Less
Dangerous and More Beneficial than Non-Smokers

MERCED, CA— Tobacco is the leading cause of
preventable deaths in the U.S., causing close to a half-million
deaths every year. It’s common knowledge that the best way to stop
smoking is to never start, yet 1 million people pick up the habit
each year - and many of them are under 18.

Given the facts, preventing tobacco use among adolescents is a
major focus in our country, but the statistics regarding teen
smoking remain staggering.

UC Merced psychologist

Anna V. Song
spends her days figuring out why, if teens know
smoking is unhealthy, they do it anyway.

Song found that when it comes to deciding whether to smoke that
first cigarette, teens actually do weigh the pros and cons. Teens
who believe smoking is very risky and holds little value are less
likely to smoke, compared to teens who believe smoking is safer and
socially valuable.

Song and her collaborator, Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher at UC San
Francisco, presented their findings in the March 2009 edition of

American Journal of Public Health,
published today, Feb. 10.

“Contrary to the stereotype of the brash, non-thinking teen,
young people do care about the risks and benefits associated to
smoking,” Song said. “The difference between those who light up and
those who don’t is how they weigh the risks versus benefits.”

Though public health officials accept that perception is reality
for teens, Song’s study was the first of its kind. Using
longitudinal data collected over two years, the study compared how
adolescents view the short-term and long-term risks of smoking,
along with perceived benefits.

Song believes that her findings can help improve the
effectiveness of anti-smoking campaigns by focusing on both
perceived risks and benefits that resonate most deeply with teens.

“In our study, no one really believed they were immune to the
long-term risks of smoking,” Song said. “But our findings do
demonstrate that interventions focused only on long-term dangers
such as cancer and heart disease are not addressing the whole
picture. To be effective, they must also address other issues that
are important to teens like feeling grown-up, smelling like an
ashtray, or getting into trouble.”

Song, who conducted this research project while at the Center
for Tobacco Control Research and Education at UC San Francisco,
joined the
faculty at UC Merced in Fall 2008. She is one of many
human health experts at UC Merced. Her area of expertise is risk
behaviors in adolescents, which include sexual activity, and the
use of tobacco, drugs and alcohol. To view other faculty experts,


Tonya Luiz