December 20, 1997
Teens show sex-linked pull to cigarettes
by B. Bower
Over the past few years, U.S. teenagers have reported rising rates of both occasional and regular cigarette smoking. Preliminary results now suggest that different traits predispose young men and young women to take up cigarettes.
During high school, boys who start smoking often have cigarette-smoking friends and, to a modest extent, report symptoms of depression, according to a study directed by Joel D. Killen of Stanford University School of Medicine. Girls who begin to smoke also have friends who use cigarettes, but in many cases these girls ardently pursue social contacts and close relationships, at least in a sample consisting mostly of white, Asian, and Hispanic teens.
"The current importance that smoking-prevention programs place on self-esteem building and social skills training may be off the mark for the girls most at risk for smoking," Killen and his coworkers contend. "Our data suggest that such girls may already be more gregarious and socially adept than are their peers."
Few studies have examined sex differences in temperamental and social influences on teenagers' use of various substances, including cigarettes, the researchers note.
If the new findings are confirmed, they would support an earlier theory that many boys smoke cigarettes in part to cope with social anxieties, whereas girls who thrive on social interaction and belonging to peer groups prove most willing to adopt group-condoned behaviors, such as cigarette use.
Killen and his colleagues studied a total of 1,901 boys and girls entering one of three Northern California high schools. Students were administered annual self-report surveys for either 3 or 4 years. A majority of the students reported smoking sometime during the study.
The researchers did not focus on factors already linked to teenage smoking that lie outside the realm of school-based prevention efforts, such as a parent's cigarette smoking.
Concerns about weight and excess body fat showed no link to initial cigarette use, Killen and his colleagues note in the December Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
Sex differences such as those noted in the new study coincide with evidence that female smokers, unlike their male counterparts, appear especially sensitive to aspects of smoking that are not related to nicotine ingestion, according to psychologist Kenneth A. Perkins of the University of Pittsburgh. Such influences may include conditioned responses to seeing and smelling tobacco smoke and the social gratification of smoking rituals, Perkins says.
Sex differences are beginning to appear more often in studies of adolescent substance use, remarks psychologist Todd Q. Miller of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. In the September Addictive Behaviors, Miller and a colleague report that prior physical and sexual attacks exhibit a strong link to initial marijuana use by teenage girls in a national sample; poor grades and close ties to delinquent friends correspond more closely to boys' willingness to try marijuana.
Killen, J.D., et al. 1997. Prospective study of risk factors for the initiation of cigarette smoking. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 65(December):1011
Miller, D.S., and T.Q. Miller. 1997. A test of socioeconomic status as a predictor of initial marijuana use. Addictive Behaviors 22(September):L479.
Joel D. Killen
Stanford University School of Medicine
Department of Medicine
1000 Welch Road
Palo Alto, CA 94304
Todd Q. Miller
University of Texas Medical Branch
Department of Preventative Medicine and Community Health
Galveston, TX 77555-1153