Toward a Determination of Adolescent Age-Graded Differences in Predictors of Cigarette Initiation

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INTRODUCTION

Cigarette smoking by people of all ages is an issue that warrants monitoring; however, smoking among youth should be approached with considerably more concern. Although a statistically normative behavior, the initiation and use of cigarettes during adolescence can carry high human costs. The human brain, which generally reaches maturity when individuals reach their 20s (Giedd, 2004), still is developing throughout the teen years. Adolescents who continue smoking cigarettes not only are exposed to toxic chemicals at a time in which their brains are growing, but patterned use can lead to homeostasis and nicotine tolerance at a relatively early age (Belluzi, Wang, & Leslie, 2005). These physiological processes taking place in the developing brain subject adolescents to significant risk for nicotine addiction, particularly long-term dependence that extends into the adult years, and elevated risks for cardiovascular diseases, cancer, respiratory diseases, and premature death (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2009; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004). Among adults, smokers die 14 years earlier, on average, than nonsmokers (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008).

Perhaps one of the major reasons why the health consequences of smoking continue to pose a major concern is because cigarettes remain one of the drugs of choice among youth, despite the recent increase in juvenile rates of prescription drug use (Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2008). Cigarette incident rates have declined in recent years; however, these downturns are not as large as that observed for other delinquent acts, and current cigarette initiation levels are still very high compared to those observed in the early 1990s (Johnston et al., 2006). Today, nearly 50% of high-school seniors have initiated cigarette use (Johnston et al., 2009). Recent estimates of initiation among early adolescents are particularly troubling. Nearly 50% of 12-13 year olds who self-report smoking indicate initiating by 12 years of age or younger (Office of Applied Studies, 2005).

In response to this public health concern, and out of a need to maintain effective smoking prevention initiatives (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992), researchers have directed a great deal of attention toward identifying the causes and correlates of cigarette initiation, while simultaneously assessing the utility of theory for specifying the types of explanatory factors and the processes by which attendant impacts occur. The wide support that major theories of adolescent drug use have engendered, particularly social learning theory (Akers, 1977), social bond theory (Hirschi, 1969) and the social development model (Catalano & Hawkins, 1996), have led, in part, to the advent of age-tailored youth drug prevention programs (Hawkins, Catalano, & Arthur, 2002).

Although still in its infancy, this translation of etiological research to prevention practice marked a significant change in the way researchers, drug prevention specialists, and school administrators traditionally approached the prevention of youth drug use. Traditionally, standard drug prevention programs were administered to all youth, regardless of age and attendant social and psychological development, or degree of involvement in drug use (Hawkins et al., 1992). Today, more and more school districts are making a concerted effort to tailor universal (primary), selective (secondary), and indicated (tertiary) programs such that content works to reduce and enhance the malleable risk and protective factors to which target participants, who are relatively homogenous in age, are exposed (Hawkins et al., 1992). This transition from blanket "one size fits all" prevention initiatives to age-specific, developmentally appropriate drug preventions has been slow-going; however, the etiological knowledge base on age-specific predictors of cigarette initiation has expanded, thereby prompting the need for comprehensive reviews that synthesize what is currently known and unknown about age differences in risk and protective factors (Derzon & Lipsey, 1999). …