Tobacco consumption is one of the main preventable causes of death worldwide. It is one of the most important substance abuse problems and is also associated with increased risk of various types of cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 4.9 million people die each year as a consequence of tobacco consumption (Global Youth Tobacco Survey Collaborating Group, 2003).
Available information shows a significant growth in the number of child and adolescent smokers, leading to the view that it is an epidemic among young people. The increase among adolescents has become more serious due to the intensity of media and Web publicity campaigns (Hong & Cody, 2002; Global Youth Tobacco Survey Collaborating Group, 2003; Watson et al., 2003). The proportion of female adolescent smokers is rising, with smoking beginning at a lower age (Global Youth Tobacco Survey Collaborating Group, 2003). It has been noted elsewhere that the use of tobacco before the age of 15 increases the probability of other substance abuse (Medina-Mora et al., 2002). Interventions to reduce smoking have not been successful (Fernandez et al., 2002).
In developed countries, experimentation with tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs typically occurs during early adolescence (Ariza & Nebot, 2002). Student population surveys that have been used to monitor life habits has facilitated the study of risk factors for drug use (Nebot, 1998).
The Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) which has gathered information from 52 countries, reports little between-gender difference in the consumption of cigarettes and other tobacco products. The data underscore growth of the smoking epidemic, especially among women in developing countries. The consumption rate in females aged 13 to 15 years was 20% while 35% of men in the same age group smoked, giving a male/female smokers ratio of 1.6:1. It was found that 23.4% of males and 14.8% of females in Mexico consumed tobacco, reflecting the same ratio (Global Youth Tobacco Survey Collaborating Group, 2003).
During the last 10 years the number of smokers in Mexico has increased from 9 million to 13 million. The 1998 National Addiction Survey reported a prevalence of 16.3% among women and 42.9% among men. Most of these smokers were 18-29 years of age and, according to surveys, there was an upward trend of the proportion of smokers that began consuming tobacco before they were 18 (52.2% in 1988, 56.8% in 1993, and 61.4% in 1998). Smoking also increased among those younger than 17, from 7.7% in 1998 to 11.6% in 1998 (SSA, 1995; SSA, 1999). Other studies of the young and student populations in Mexico confirm these data (SEP, 1992; Arillo et al., 2002).
During adolescence motives for the appearance of risky behavior such as tobacco consumption often correspond to evolutionary needs such as the development of autonomy, the learning of new roles, and training for intimacy. Some other risk factors identified with the start of tobacco consumption are the search for a social image and the perception that use of tobacco is a facilitator for establishing relationships. For women, cigarette consumption has also been used as a means of controlling weight and is regarded as reflective of social sophistication (French et al., 1994). Adolescents underestimate the possibility of becoming addicted to nicotine (Medina-Mora et al., 2002). Several researchers have tried to explain risky behavior such as tobacco consumption. Jessor (1984), for example, proposed a theory of problem behavior in which personal emotional rewards are acquired by smokers; i.e., smokers are rewarded by positive emotions when smoking. Fishbein and Azjen (1975) developed a theory of reasoned action based on peer rewards; smoking allows the smoker to form friendships with other smokers. Bandura (1969; 1992) attempted to explain smoking with a theory of social learning; a beginning smoker observes a healthy smoking model and may form the view that cigarettes are not harmful. …