Grant to study why teens smoke

November 17, 2004

The University of Illinois at Chicago is leading a five-year research project funded by a $13 million National Cancer Institute grant to examine adolescent smoking patterns.

"This study is important because surprisingly little is known about why some teens experiment with smoking and quit, while others experiment and become dependent," said Robin Mermelstein, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Health Behavior Research at UIC's Institute for Health Research and Policy.

"We will look at the combined social, emotional and physiological contexts of teen smoking, which have not been addressed as comprehensively and simultaneously in previous research," said Mermelstein.

A multidisciplinary team of investigators from UIC and the University of Chicago will track the natural progression of smoking experimentation, including nonsmoking, to examine many factors that might influence teen smoking behaviors.

The researchers will look at adolescent smoking patterns and predictors including emotional well-being, daily activities, social interaction with family and peers and physiological reactions to smoking.

"Most adult smokers start smoking before age 18," said Mermelstein, principal investigator of the study. "Adolescence is a critical time to try to understand health behaviors."

Recent studies have shown that in the 12th grade, nearly a quarter of all students have smoked in the past 30 days, and about 16 percent are regular, daily smokers.

The study's goals include understanding the pathways that contribute to teen smoking, determining how much time it takes to become dependent, and identifying who is most vulnerable, said Mermelstein.

The project will enroll approximately 1,400 ninth- and 10th-grade students from 15 high schools in the greater Chicago area. The students and their parents will be followed for three years.

One group of students will participate in the study by using a personal digital assistant. The PDAs will randomly prompt students several times a day to ask them personal questions about their environment, emotions and relationships.

A second group of students will participate in family talk sessions to learn how parents and adolescents communicate about health behaviors. A third group will be evaluated in a controlled laboratory setting where researchers will monitor teens' psychophysiological responses to smoking.

Investigators hope the research will lead to improved prevention and treatment programs for teen smokers.
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Partners in the study include the UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy, the UIC department of psychology, the UIC School of Public Health, and the University of Chicago.

UIC ranks among the nation's top 50 universities in federal research funding and is Chicago's largest university with 25,000 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state's major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world. For more information about UIC, visit www.uic.edu.

University of Illinois at Chicago

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