A Comparison of Peer Influence Measures as Predictors of Smoking Among Predominately Hispanic/Latino High School Adolescents
More Americans died from complications related to smoking in 2011 than from HIV/AIDs, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 80% of adult smokers start before they are 18 years old. While youth smoking rates significantly declined between 1997 and 2003, 18% of Hispanic high school students had smoked at least one cigarette as of 2009. Earlier research suggests that peer behaviors were primary factors determining whether or not a student will start smoking, but it was unclear if this was facilitated by an environment that condones smoking — or by a single friend who smokes.
A 2012 study from the University of Southern California and the University of Texas in the Journal of Adolescent Health, “A Comparison of Peer Influence Measures as Predictors of Smoking Among Predominately Hispanic/Latino High School Adolescents,” investigated what drives teens to start smoking. Researchers tracked 1,950 students from seven majority-Hispanic high schools in Southern California over a two-year period. Participants were asked to report if they smoked and to compile a list of their friends and indicate who smoked. A student’s popularity was determined by how many times he or she was listed as a friend by others.
Key study findings include:
- “Popular students become smokers earlier than less popular ones. The dynamic model results here further underscore that the behavior of popular peers may strongly influence the community norms and subsequent behaviors of other adolescents.”
- The probability of becoming a smoker in 10th grade increased by 67% for those named as friends by many people in the school compared to those named by a few.
- “An increase in perceived friend smoking was associated with becoming a smoker. Conversely, only the baseline friend self-report measured as a proportion had a significant association with smoking and only in the 10th grade initiation model.”
- Contrary to previous studies, this study proposed that peer perceptions of who smokes are actually lower than the true number of other students who reported smoking: On average, respondents estimated that 17% of friends were smokers; yet when those friends were interviewed, the self-reported smoking rate was 27%.
- Within the seven high schools studied in Los Angeles, 25.6% of teens reported smoking in 9th grade and 28.1% reported smoking in 10th grade.
The researchers conclude that “adolescents become smokers by having smoking friends, and smokers will make friends with smokers. Popular students initiated smoking earlier than their less popular peers.” They added that, contrary to earlier research, “this was not a product of being exposed to more peer smoking, rather was a function of popularity alone…. This study underscores the need to continue designing peer-based behavior change programs.”
Tags: Hispanic, youth, Latino
Read the study-related Examiner.com article titled "Teens Are Still Smoking."
- What key insights from the news article and the study in this lesson should reporters be aware of as they cover these issues?
Read the full study titled "A Comparison of Peer Influence Measures as Predictors of Smoking."
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?