Do popular youngsters take up smoking?

New research has identified a link between a young person's popularity and the likelihood they will take up smoking. Published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the study suggested students with lots of friends are more prone to taking up the habit than those who move in smaller social circles.

Investigators from the University of Southern California (USC) and University of Texas noted the findings correlated with previous results from other related studies.

Thomas Valente, Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, noted: "That we're still seeing this association more than ten years later, despite marginal declines in smoking, suggests that popularity is a strong predictor of smoking behaviour."

It was demonstrated that youngsters who believe their closest friends use cigarettes are more likely to spark up themselves, with popular kids becoming smokers at a younger age than those considered unpopular.

Professor Valente explained adolescence is a time when individuals try to figure out what is important by looking at the behaviour of those close to them.

Chartered Psychologist Professor Martin Hagger from Curtin University, Western Australia, says:

"Smoking is a very complex behaviour, particularly the factors that lead people to take up smoking. However, the social influences on smoking uptake and maintenance, particularly in young people, have long been documented as the most important.

"Research in social and health psychology has revealed that social status, leadership, and conformity are powerful influences on young people's behaviour, so the findings that popularity is associated with smoking behaviours in young people is consistent with this research. This is because popularity is associated with success and positive attributes, which means that popular people who smoke are associating that behaviour with the positive attributes that person represents.

"Those who are popular are also more likely to smoke possibly because they have very extensive social networks and are more likely to be exposed to smoking, they may also be seeking a unique identity to go with their popularity.They way forward to improve health is for psychologists to identify effective interventions which may help break the link between popularity, uniqueness, and smoking."