UW News

September 15, 1997

Local minority youth help UW researchers understand teen smoking

With thousands of youths lighting up cigarettes each day, public health officials are finding themselves in need of some insider information to help address the growing problem of teen smoking — Why do teens smoke? What do teens think about smoking? And how do family and culture affect teens’ smoking behavior?
In an effort to answer these questions, researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine have enlisted help from Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) youth in Seattle. For the past two years, researchers have met with APIA youths to hear their opinions, thoughts and comments on smoking.

“These youths are part of the fastest growing minority group in Seattle, yet we know little about their health status,” said Dr. Clarence Spigner, lead investigator and UW associate professor of health services.

A total of 90 Cambodian, Filipino, Mien, Samoan and Vietnamese youths aged 14 to 19 have been participating in focus group research. During the casual group meetings, teens speak about a variety of issues surrounding tobacco use, including the impact of cigarette advertising, parental views on smoking, and personal beliefs about the image and consequences associated with smoking.

Preliminary results from interviews with 59 Samoan, Vietnamese and Mien teens revealed that APIA youths in Seattle share similar values about smoking tobacco and not smoking compared to youths from other ethnic groups. Spigner added that all participants expressed a general awareness of the health consequences of smoking and a belief in individual responsibility for smoking or not smoking. However teens also noted the role of the media in influencing people to smoke.

An intriguing commonality found across all groups interviewed is the central role of the family in socializing smoking or non-smoking behavior. Youths repeatedly showed a deep respect for parental authority in matters relating to smoking.

“No parent wants his or her child to smoke,” Spigner noted. “We’ve found that socialization and interaction between parents and children are very influential across all ethnic groups.”

In the coming year, UW School of Public Health and Community Medicine will expand its research to include more than 80 youths of Filipino, Cambodian, Laotian, Samoan and Vietnamese ethnicity, divided into 10 focus groups. Further research questions will address youths’ opinions about policies that restrict youth access to tobacco products.

“We’re very fortunate to have help from local youths,” Spigner said. “Their opinions have provided valuable insights about the effect of family dynamics on smoking behavior and will be helpful in developing better health education and health promotion strategies to prevent teen smoking.”