Cigarette Smoking among Korean Adolescents: Prevalence and Correlates

Article excerpt


Cigarette smoking among teenagers has become an increasing problem in Korea during the past decades. Recent studies indicated that about one-third of Korean senior high school students reported having smoked cigarettes (Kim, 1989; Kim et al., 1989; Seoul Youth Center, 1988). It has been proposed that a wide availability of cigarettes to minors along with social pressure for academic achievement might contribute to increasing use.

Researchers have attempted to explain the initiation of cigarette smoking among adolescents based on theories of social learning (Akers, 1977) and stress/coping (Wills, 1986). The social learning perspective postulates that influence of parents and peers on adolescents' cigarette smoking is a behavior learned by modeling and social reinforcement. The most consistent and powerful predictor is whether their friends smoke (Dusenbery et al., 1992; Urberg, Shyu, & Liang, 1990; Harken, 1987; Surgeon General, 1979). The other significant influence is family; adolescents are more likely to smoke cigarettes if their parents smoke (Barnes, Farrell, & Cairns, 1986; Lauer et al., 1982). In a recent study, Bauman et al. (1990) found that lifetime parental smoking was strongly correlated with adolescent smoking.

As adolescents develop, parents generally become less influential as compared with peers (LaGrange & White, 1985). Studies focusing on adolescent drug use find a transition in the strength of influence on drug use from parents to peers (Huba & Bentler, 1980; Glynn, 1981; Skinner et al., 1985). Researchers have consistently reported that peers have a greater influence on adolescents' substance use than do parents (Needle et al., 1986; Hundleby, 1987).

According to the stress/coping theory, adolescents engage in cigarette smoking to alleviate depression and tension, and escape from problems (Wills, 1986). Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to stress as they undergo internal changes (anatomical, biological, and psychological) while experiencing external changes in the family, school, or peer group. In Korean society, academic performance is of great importance. Thus, Korean adolescents experience great stress with regard to general academic demands or preparation for college. This greater stress may have contributed to increased cigarette smoking by Korean adolescents. For example, in a longitudinal study examining the effects of school failure on delinquency and psychological distress, Juon (1992) found that school failure is associated with psychological distress and delinquent behavior.

Another variable found to be related to adolescent smoking is the type of school. For example, Rawbone, Keeling, & Jenkins (1979) found that smoking was more common among girls who attended mixed comprehensive schools than among those who attended a single-sex comprehensive school. On the other hand, Murray, Kiryluk, & Swan (1985) found in the MRC/Derbyshire Smoking Study, that boys who attended schools that were single-sex were at higher risk for smoking.

Adolescence is the period of greatest risk for substance use. Thus, since alcohol and cigarettes are the "gateway drugs" to marijuana use and other illicit drugs (Kandel, 1975; Kandel, Yamaguchi, & Chen, 1992), the study of the factors associated with cigarette smoking among Korean adolescents deserves special attention. However, in Korea, few studies on the risk factors of adolescent smoking have been published. The purpose of this study was to measure the prevalence of cigarette smoking in a nationally stratified random sample of Korean high school students and to determine associated risk factors.


Target Population

This study was part of the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs' Adolescent Health Survey. It was targeted at all junior and senior high school students in the Seoul metropolitan area, Chungbook province, and Chunbook province. …


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