(HealthDay News) – Peer influence and social context impact adolescent smoking behaviors, with popular teenagers and adolescents who think their friends smoke more likely to become smokers, according to a study published online Sept 6 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Thomas W Valente, PhD, from the University of Southern California in Alhambra, and colleagues analyzed longitudinal data collected in the ninth and tenth grades (October 2006 and 2007) from 1,950 predominantly Hispanic/Latino adolescents in seven Southern California schools.

The researchers found that there was a significant and consistent association between an egocentric measure of perceived friend smoking and individual smoking (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], ~1.8). The sociometric counterpart of friend self-report smoking correlated with smoking only in the ninth-grade cross-sectional models (aOR, 1.56), and the association was rarely seen in longitudinal models. Smoking and becoming a smoker were significantly associated with popularity, measured by the proportion of nominations received by class size (aOR, 1.67), whereas in longitudinal models, perceived norms were not associated. Becoming a smoker was also associated with friend selection (aOR, 1.32; P=0.05).

“This study illustrates the utility of egocentric data for understanding peer influence and underscores the importance of perceptions and popularity as mechanisms that influence adolescent smoking,” Valente and colleagues conclude.

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