Tobacco Use among High School Athletes and Nonathletes: Results of the 1997 Youth Risk Behavior Survey

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Conventional wisdom has it that participation in high school athletic programs positively influences adolescent health-related behavior. Coaches, athletic administrators, the mass media, and the general public often assert that interscholastic athletic participation helps teenagers develop healthy habits while steering them away from tobacco, alcohol, drugs, dangerous dietary practices, physical inactivity, and other detrimental behaviors.

On the other hand, some sport critics focus on a variety of negative health-related behaviors they believe are associated with athletic participation such as binge drinking (Zill, Nord & Loomis, 1995); drug use; on- and off-the-field aggression (Nixon, 1997; Pilz, 1982); the "female triad," namely eating disorders, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis (Taub & Blinde, 1992); actions that result in unintentional injury and death, such as irresponsible automobile, motorcycle, and bicycle use (Baumert, Henderson, & Thompson, 1998); and unprotected sex.

The contribution of athletic participation to adolescent healthful living is a contentious issue ("Studies Raise Doubts," 1993). Despite an impressive corpus of research literature on the subject, the precise nature of the relationship between high school athletic participation and healthy behavior remains unclear, with research studies providing more questions than answers (Thorlindsson, Vilhjalmsson, & Valgeirsson, 1990). The present study was undertaken to investigate how nationally representative samples of moderately and highly involved female and male high school athletes compare with their nonathletic peers on a single health-related behavior, tobacco use (i.e., cigarette and cigar smoking and smokeless tobacco use), an addictive behavior that often begins in adolescence and is associated with increased rates of vascular and pulmonary disease in adulthood. We examined the relationship between high school athletic participation and tobacco use by replicating as well as improving upon previous research. Specifically, the strengths of the investigation include: (1) a recently sampled, nationally representative population of public and private high school students; (2) a greater focus on female users; (3) use of a measure of athletic participation which differentiates between highly involved and moderately involved athletes; (4) attention to both cigarette smoking and smokeless tobacco use; (5) a look at cigar smoking among high school athletes and nonathletes; and (6) a carefully controlled research design.

High School Students and Cigarette Smoking

Almost all current adult tobacco users initiated their habit as adolescents (Evans, 1998). Today, cigarette smoking is an entrenched part of teenage culture with an estimated 3,000 teens taking up the habit every day. Approximately 3.1 million adolescents are current smokers, and nearly one-third say they started smoking at age 12 or younger (Page & Koch, 1998). More than one in three high school students (35% of girls and 38% of boys) have smoked at least one cigarette in the past month ("High School Smokers," 1999). Despite the fact that the percentage of 12th graders who report smoking halfa pack of cigarettes or more a day dropped for the first time in years in 1998 (12.6%), it still remains well above where it stood in 1988 (10.6%) ("Up in Smoke," 1999).

Cigarette smoking during adolescence is associated with a number of significant health problems, such as respiratory illness (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1994), and with several health-compromising behaviors, such as higher risk sexual behavior (Evans, 1998). Adolescent smoking is a complex, addictive behavior with a wide array of correlates including: ethnic group, attitude toward females who smoke, close friend's use of cigarettes, personal use of alcohol, school self-esteem, enrollment in college preparatory classes, grades, truancy, attendance at religious services, time spent in peer-oriented activities and peer group memberships (de Moor et al. …