Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Part-Time Work and Cigarette Use among Teenagers

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

Part-Time Work and Cigarette Use among Teenagers

Article excerpt

Does Age Moderate this Relationship?


Objectives: Previous studies on part-time work and substance use suggest that those teenagers working longer hours during the school year use cigarettes more frequently than those working less or not at all. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether age moderates the relationship between part-time work hours and smoking status.

Methods: This 1999 study consisted of a cross-sectional survey of 4,297 junior high and high school students aged 13 to 19 from 111 randomly selected schools in Ontario.

Results: Compared to not working at all, moderate (11 to 20 hours/week) to long (21 + hours) work hours was more strongly associated with the probability of being a smoker among young teenagers (13 to 16 years old). Work intensity was only weakly associated with cigarette use in late adolescence (17 to 19 years old).

Conclusions: Working longer hours during school is associated with cigarette use, particularly among young teenagers. Although these cross-sectional data prohibit any firm conclusions regarding causality, the strong association observed among young teenagers increases the plausibility of early work transition being a risk factor for initiating smoking.

Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, lung disease, and other problems (e.g., low birthweight).1 Estimates have placed tobacco's contribution to premature deaths in North America at 20% to 60%.2,3 Prevention of smoking among teenagers is seen as a central goal of public health efforts to reduce smoking and its health consequences because most people start smoking before they are 18 years old.4

Socialization that occurs in family and school environments appears to play a critical role in the onset of smoking.5,6 Less is understood about another social role that is apparently associated with teenage cigarette use, working part-time during the school year. In Canada, about one third of 15 to 19 year old full-time students are estimated to work for an employer during the school year.7 In addition, informal work arrangements (e.g., babysitting, yardwork, delivery) are not uncommon among young teenagers,8 and bring into question the belief that juggling work and school begins in late adolescence.

The association between part-time work and use of substances such as cigarettes has been described as one of the most consistent findings in research on youth and work,9 with 20 or more hours per week being particularly associated with adverse developmental consequences.10 According to a recent review,10 5 of 7 cross-sectional studies and 4 of 6 longitudinal studies showed a positive relationship between work hours during school and composite indices of substance use that included cigarettes. Two of the three studies that specifically assessed tobacco showed a positive association between work hours and frequency of cigarette use.11-13

Explanations of this association posit either causal or selective processes: Does a work-smoking association reflect the impact of part-time work or the influence of prior characteristics of the individuals who later work longer hours? Working longer hours does appear to increase socialization with drug-using peers and decrease parental control.14,15 With regard to the selection hypothesis, students who report working long hours also report poorer school performance, more antisocial behaviours (e.g., trouble with police), and more health-compromising behaviours (e.g., poor diet) than peers working a few hours or not at all.11,16,17 This precocious engagement in more "adult" behaviours may reflect individual differences in academic inclination or personality traits (e.g., impulsivity and sensation-seeking).11,18 Longitudinal evidence suggests that, even though selection effects are evident, work hours are correlated with alcohol, drug and cigarette use above and beyond any preemployment differences. …

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