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Parental Smoking Associated with Increased Risk of Smoking Uptake by Children and Adolescents

Tobacco smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. It also causes millions of incidents of smoking related-diseases every year. The risk of disease or death increases with each year of smoking, so people who start smoking earlier are more likely to have serious consequences. Unfortunately, the majority of adult smokers began smoking in childhood or adolescence. This lengthens the time of smoke exposure and can significantly increase the chance of severe pulmonary diseases or death at early ages.

Many factors influence children and adolescents to start smoking. Researchers from the United Kingdom examined the rates of smoking among family members of children or adolescent smokers. The study, published in Thorax Journal, found that children with parents or siblings that smoke are significantly more likely to become smokers themselves.

About the Study

The systematic review included 58 trials evaluating risk of children and adolescents starting to smoke with other household smokers. The review found that living in a house with smokers increased the chance of a child or adolescent smoking. Risks of adolescents or child smoking increased by:

  • 1.9 times if any household member smoked
  • 1.7 times if at least one parent smoked
  • 2.1 times if the mother smoked
  • 1.6 times if the father smoked
  • 2.7 times if both parents smoked
  • 2.3 times if siblings smoked

How Does This Affect You?

The individual studies in the review were observational studies, which makes them a little less reliable than other types of studies because researchers do not control any parts of the study. They simply observe events as they unfold. By reviewing several of these studies in a systematic review, researchers can increase the reliability of the outcomes with a much larger pool than any of the individual studies.

Their environment significantly influences children and adolescents. Having regular smokers in households appears to be one factor that can increase the chance of smoking. Ideally, none of the people living in the house with a child or adolescent should smoke. If you or your family members smoke, this is just one more good reason to quit. In addition, it is important to keep an open dialogue with your child or teen about the pitfalls of smoking. Address the different negative aspects of smoking with your child such as poor sports performance, smell on clothes, stains on teeth, wrinkles, or isolation from nonsmoking friends. Remember what motivates you (such as long-term health) may be less motivating to them. Some people who smoke may feel like hypocrites talking to their children about not smoking, but sharing the difficulties of quitting may actually inspire them to stay clear.




  • Leonardi-Bee J, Jere ML, Britton J. Exposure to parental and sibling smoking and the risk of smoking uptake in childhood and adolescence: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Thorax. 2011 Feb 15.

Last reviewed August 2011 by Brian P. Randall, MD

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