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gi et al.Youth & Society

s) 2012



Youth & Society

Adolescents Perceptions
2014,Vol. 46(1) 132149
The Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permissions:
of Parental Influences on
DOI: 10.1177/0044118X11434414
Their Smoking Behavior:

A Content Analysis

Stefania Maggi1, Chris Y. Lovato2, Erin M. Hill1,

Joy L. Johnson2, Pamela A. Ratner2,
and Jean A. Shoveller2

The purpose of this study was to describe adolescents perceptions of
parental influences on their smoking behavior. Thirty-five adolescents, 14
to 18 years old, provided narrative accounts of their smoking histories in
semistructured interviews. Most of the participants recognized that their
parents played an important role in shaping their experiences with cigarettes.
They described several different ways in which parents influenced
their smoking behavior. The quality of the adolescents relationships with
their parents emerged as central to how they experienced the environment in
which they lived and the ways in which they interpreted messages about smok-
ing. Studies using a systemic approach to examine the role of parents in smok-
ing acquisition are needed to investigate the aspects of parentadolescent
relationships involved in the effective communication of health messages in
general and messages about smoking in particular.

smoking, adolescents, parental influences, parentchild relationships,
qualitative study
Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
The University of British Columbia,Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Corresponding Author:
Stefania Maggi, Department of Psychology and Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies, Carleton
University, Dunton Tower 2210, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6, Canada.

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Maggi et al. 133

Acquisition of smoking behavior is a complex and multifaceted process
involving several factors and a variety of contexts. Parents are thought to be
a major influence on adolescents cigarette smoking because of the different
ways in which they can contribute to such behavior. They can directly influ-
ence adolescents smoking via social learning and modeling, or more indirectly
through parenting practices and the quality of their relationship with their
children (e.g., Simons-Morton, Chen, Abroms, & Haynie, 2004; Simons-
Morton, Haynie, Crump, Eitel, & Saylor, 2001).
The study of parentchild relationships is important to the field of adoles-
cent psychology because of the known pivotal role that healthy relationships
can have during this critical phase of development. Historically, parentado-
lescent relationships were believed to be primarily tumultuous and conflict-
ridden; however, in recent years it has been acknowledged that they can
take many forms (McGue, Elkins, Walden, & Iacono, 2005). The influence
of parentadolescent interactions has thus become a subject of interest spe-
cifically in relation to the role that these may play in contributing to adoles-
cents behaviors such as smoking (e.g., Andrews, Hops, & Duncan, 1997;
Cohen, Richardson, & LaBree, 1994; Distefan, Gilpin, Choi, & Pierce, 1998;
Jackson & Bee-Gates, 1994; Jackson & Henriksen, 1997; Sargent & Dalton,
2001; Simons-Morton et al., 2004).
A common proxy construct of the parentchild relationship, which is often
investigated in relation to smoking behavior, is that of parenting styles
(Jackson & Bee-Gates, 1994; Jackson, Henriksen, Dickinson, & Levine,
1997; Simons-Morton et al., 1999). One specific style of parenting, authorita-
tive parenting, has been found to protect against the development of problem-
atic behavior in adolescence (Jackson et al., 1994, 1997; Steinberg, 2001).
Authoritative parents are described as being both demanding of the child and
responsive to the childs needs (Baumrind, 1991). This style of parenting not
only allows the child to develop independence but also enforces the consid-
eration of possible consequences in decision making. Indeed, when Gray and
Steinberg (1999) investigated three components of authoritative parenting
(i.e., warmth, firmness, and psychological autonomy granting) and their
impact on adolescent behavior, they found that the firmness component of
authoritative parenting was the most important deterrent of problematic
Simons-Morton et al. (1999) found that sixth and eighth graders were less
likely to smoke if they experienced lower levels of conflict with their parents
and had parents who had high expectations, were knowledgeable about them,

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134 Youth & Society 46(1)

and engaged in authoritative parenting practices. Similarly, in a longitudinal

study of Canadian youth, Maggi (2005) found that children whose parents
used hostile/ineffective parenting were more likely to become occasional
smokers in their adolescent years.
It has been argued that parental influences on the psychosocial develop-
ment and adjustment of children has its roots in social learning theory, which
posits that both modeling of role models behaviors and outcome expectations
influence a persons decision to engage in certain behaviors (Simons-
Morton, 2002). Social learning theory would then predict a greater prev-
alence of smoking in children of smoking parents. However, research
testing this hypothesis has been inconclusive with some studies support-
ing such prediction (e.g., Jackson & Henriksen, 1997; Rowe, Chassin,
Presson, & Sherman, 1996) and others reporting nonsignificant findings
(e.g., Distefan et al., 1998).
Andrews et al. (1997) argued that the extent to which adolescents model
their parents behavior may vary in function of the quality of the parentchild
relationship. For example, children who perceive their parents as respectable,
trustworthy, and competent referents may be more likely to model their parents
behavior than children who do not have positive relationships with their
parents. In fact, in their study of social learning, the quality of the parent
child relationship, and its effect on substance use, Andrews et al. found that
adolescents would only model parents substance use behavior if they had a
moderate-to-good relationship with that parent. Such modeling of substance
use behavior was not observed when the relationship between the parent and
child was relatively poor. Similarly, Jackson and Henriksen (1997) found that
a childs risk of early onset smoking increased with levels of exposure to
parental smoking, but children whose parents engaged in antismoking social-
ization resulted in significantly lower rates of smoking onset, even when the
parents were current smokers.
These findings indicate that there appears to be a unique interaction
between the modeling component of social learning and the quality of the
parentadolescent relationship. This interaction helps to highlight that the
impact parents have on adolescents behaviors is better understood in the
broader context of the dynamic relationship that exists between parents and
children. The literature also indicates that parents roles in the acquisition of
adolescents smoking behavior may involve the interplay between parenting
styles, communication strategies, and parental smoking, rather than influenc-
ing smoking through any one of these individual factors. However, there is a
need for more research to determine the extent to which different aspects of
parental influences mediate or moderate each other or are mediated or

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Maggi et al. 135

moderated by other important factors. At the same time, qualitative studies

need to be conducted to promote understanding of how young people articu-
late the processes by which different types of parental influences either
inhibit or facilitate the adoption of smoking.
A critical contribution of qualitative research is in the exploration of ado-
lescents perceptions of the extent to which (and different ways in which)
parents contribute to the acquisition of smoking behavior. Furthering our
understanding about adolescents perceptions of parental influences has criti-
cal implications, not only because it can provide important insights into the
context of family life and structure and advance theory development but also
because it may reveal important new aspects of the parentadolescent rela-
tionship that are importantly associated with smoking behavior, thus offering
additional opportunities for intervention or prevention programs.
The purpose of this study was to describe the role of parental influences in
the acquisition of smoking behavior from the subjective point of view of a sam-
ple of Canadian adolescents who, at some time in their lives, had experimented
with cigarette smoking. To this end, we conducted a phenomenological study
involving a content analysis of individual interviews conducted with 35
adolescents between the ages of 14 and 18 years.


Participants in this study were 35 adolescents (18 males and 17 females)

from Vancouver and Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada who took part in a
larger investigation of the transitions from experimentation to regular smoking
or nonsmoking. The mean age of the participants was 16 years (range 14-18
years). The participants were recruited through print advertisements and refer-
rals from schools and community centers. Adolescents who expressed
interest in the study were screened for eligibility through a brief telephone
interview, which included a question about their current smoking status
(At the present time, do you smoke cigarettes everyday, occasionally or not
at all?). Participation was restricted to youths, 14 to 18 years old, who had
either smoked or experimented with tobacco use in the past, and regardless
of their current smoking behavior.
Sampling within qualitative research aims to purposefully select infor-
mants who can provide in-depth descriptions of their experiences (Denzin &
Lincoln, 2000; Patton, 1987). Thus, a purposive sample of participants who
reported having tried cigarette smoking in the past was recruited for in-depth

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136 Youth & Society 46(1)

interviews. The sampling strategy was directed at securing a range of experi-

ences that could be described in the adolescents accounts about the transi-
tions from early experimentation with cigarette smoking to more regular
patterns of smoking or abstinence, rather than to obtain a representative sam-
ple of adolescents.

Data Collection
In depth, semistructured interviews lasting about 45 min were audio-recorded.
Two trained interviewers conducted the interviews in private rooms, at com-
munity centers, schools, public libraries, or a university research office. Each
interview began with an explanation of the studys purpose and a request for
the participant to sign a consent form. Participants were paid a CAN$25 incen-
tive for their participation. At the outset of the interviews, the participants
were informed that the purpose of the study was to learn about their early
experiences with cigarette smoking and about the transitions that led to their
current smoking status. The interviews started with the broad question,
Can you tell me about your experiences with cigarettes? and prompts and
probes were used to obtain clarification and to encourage the participants to
expand specific aspects of their stories. Given that the purpose of the study
was to investigate patterns of transition from experimentation to regular
smoking, questions about parental influences were not part of the primary
interview script.

Data analysis
All interviews were transcribed verbatim and checked for accuracy by the
interviewers. Three coders conducted the first level of analysis. Initially, the
interview transcripts were coded independently. A process was followed
whereby a code, preferably a single word, was assigned to each new idea
represented in the raw data. As new codes were identified, deductive pro-
cesses guided the description of how the codes were interrelated. These key
concepts continued to be developed and compared with the raw data until all
35 of the transcripts had been coded. All of the transcripts were coded inde-
pendently by at least one coder and all codes were subsequently reviewed
collaboratively and refined or verified by two additional coders. The analysis
represents a consensus among the coders.
At the second level of analysis, keyword searches using the computer
software QSR-NVivo (Richards, 1999) were conducted to identify passages
wherein the participants referred to their parents. Excerpts were selected for

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Maggi et al. 137

analysis if they were adolescents descriptions of their interactions with their

parents regarding smoking or the role their parents had in shaping their smok-
ing behavior. These excerpts were analyzed for their content and possible
themes. Inductive approaches were used to generate abstract, conceptual
labels of the ideas, and the raw data from the transcripts were compared with
these conceptual labels (i.e., codes).

In discussing experiences with tobacco smoking, most of the participants
described their parents as influencers, and in all cases they did so spontane-
ously (i.e., the interview scripts did not include specific questions about
parents). Among the most common accounts were experiences with being
caught smoking by their parents or how parental behavior or parental smoking
had influenced, either positively or negatively, their own smoking behavior.
What became clear during the analysis process is that perceptions of paren-
tal influences on smoking behavior, as narrated by the participants, could not
be interpreted if not in the context of the broader parentchild relationship. In
fact, the results presented here reinforce the premise that parental influences
are complex, multifaceted, and interrelational. They are not imposed on
the adolescents by parents but rather are the result of complex dynamics that
occur over time between parents and children defining the quality of the
broader parentchild relationship.
Although specific details of such parentchild relationships are lacking
from the accounts, several references to feelings (or the lack) of closeness,
trust, intimacy, and respect were offered by the participants.
Some of the themes that emerged from the analysis indicated that the ado-
lescents described a direct link between parenting styles, communication
strategies, and the quality of the parentchild relationship and their smoking
behavior, whereas in other cases the link between the parentchild relation-
ship and smoking was less direct (e.g., parental smoking, house rules about
The division of the participants accounts into distinct themes is artificial
because the narratives from the informants did not simply list events or
reflections in a discrete fashion but rather described complex emotional and
experiential accounts. In reality, it is challenging to think of the role that par-
ents may play in adolescent smoking behavior as detached from the broader
context of the parentchild relationship. For example, whether adolescents
choose to listen to parental messages about smoking may largely depend on
the quality of relationship with their parents, the level of trust that is shared
between them, or the respect that they have for their parents.

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138 Youth & Society 46(1)

For ease of readability and to fulfill the practical purpose of focusing

the readers attention to specific aspects of the adolescents perceptions,
the apparent themes have been summarized in three distinct categories: (a)
parenting styles and communication strategies (e.g., parents communi-
cating messages about smoking, quality of the relationship with parents);
(b) parental smoking and the home environment (e.g., rules about smoking
at home, access and availability of cigarettes at home, parents and other
family members smoking habits); and (c) emotional and behavioral
responses to parenting styles, communication strategies, parental smoking,
and the home environment (e.g., getting caught smoking, and reasons for
smoking or not smoking).
These three themes are discussed in detail in the following sections.

Parenting Styles and Communication Strategies

In general, there were two types of messages that the participants said they
heard from their parents: authoritarian messages that involved directions or
statements to the participants to discourage smoking, and educational and
informative messages aimed at helping the participants to understand the
effects or costs of smoking.
Authoritarian messages. Authoritarian messages about the adverse effects
of smoking (e.g., dont smoke, smoking is bad for you) were commonly
cited by the participants. They maintained that they expected their parents to
tell them that smoking is bad for them: I think as any other parents, [they]
dont like it. I wouldnt want my kid to be smoking . . . They said, Well, dont
smoke, its bad for you. The participants described different ways in which
their parents provided these authoritarian messages. Some perceived that
these messages were a general imperative from their parents not to smoke,
indicating that these messages conveyed their parents opinions about smok-
ing but lacked specific explanations about why people smoke or the health
risks associated with smoking. Adolescents of both smoking and nonsmoking
parents reported receiving this type of message.
The ways in which the smoking is bad for you message was conveyed
by parents varied. Some of the participants described it as a repeated reminder:
She always just said that its a bad thing to do. Others described it as part
of a lecture or rebuke delivered when their parents had discovered that they
were smoking:

She [sister] went and told my parents and then it all kind of escalated
from there. And, they yelled at me and told me how bad it was and Im
like, Yeah, I know it, I know it all, thanks and I dont really care.

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Maggi et al. 139

Some of the participants noted the ineffectiveness of the parental direc-

tives they received in altering their smoking intentions or behavior. In addi-
tion, the legitimacy of the messages was affected when the parents
themselves smoked. One participant noted that she was curious to know
why her parents smoked despite them telling her not to:

I always wondered why they did it and why, at the same time, my par-
ents would always tell me not to. Theyve always told me that its bad
for me and I shouldnt do it. But at the same time, I still wanted to see
why they did it.

Others admitted to having heard the message and deciding to ignore it:
They just keep telling me to quit and always, constantly. I just kind of shrug
it off, all the time. Its not really that much of a big deal. For others, the
legitimacy of the message was suspect because it was delivered by parents
who were completely antismoking or completely straight-edged.
Educational and informative messages. Some of the participants reported
that their parents provided relatively informative messages about how smok-
ing could affect their health and how nicotine addiction occurs. Some partici-
pants said that their parents talked to them about addiction and helped them
to acquire the skills they needed to not become addicted: [Mom taught me],
I guess, strength of mind to make sure I wasnt completely dependent on it.
These participants also talked about how their parents would suggest what
they should do if they started feeling that they needed to smoke. Among the
suggested strategies to cope with the onset of nicotine addiction and depen-
dency, reducing the amount smoked was often cited.
These kinds of educational and informative messages were usually posi-
tively accepted by the participants and welcomed by them more so than sim-
ple authoritarian messages:

My mom is a drug and alcohol counsellor so I know all about various

drugs and what their causes are and health risks, and stuff like that. So,
she brought home this photocopy of a newspaper article that said, Light
cigarettes are just as bad for you because I told her I smoked light

Relationships With Parents

In addition to specific messages about smoking, some of the participants
discussed how the quality of the relationship with their parents influenced

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140 Youth & Society 46(1)

them regarding smoking. Some of the participants discussed how having

troubled relationships with one or both of their parents made them want to
smoke as a way of getting back at them: I wasnt getting along with my
parents at the time. And, theyre not smokers. And, my mom used to smoke
and she quit and she is deeply against it. And, I was like, Well, screw you,
kind of thing. Others explicitly attributed their smoking to their problems
with their parents:

. . . He [dad] just kind of yelled at me all the time and my sister got
kicked out of the house when she was 17 and then because my dad
used to yell at my sister all the time and then thats when my sister left.
It was almost like he said, Well, Bs gone so lets yell at A now. And
it kind of dropped right down from there and when I feel the most
stressed is when I need a cigarette.

In contrast to accounts of how their troubled relationships with their par-

ents led to their smoking, some participants described how getting along
with their parents had a positive influence on their smoking behavior
(i.e., promoted abstinence):

I think that its how well theyre getting along with their parents because
most parents, most good parents in my mind will say, will tell you
smoking is dumb. And thats what mine certainly told me. And, since
I really liked my parents, well I love my parents, and I got along with
them very well. Id almost be scared of disappointing them if they ever
caught me. And my conscious [sic]Id feel terrible.

At times, the participants talked about how they stopped smoking

with the support of one or both parents and also how they encouraged
their parents to stop smoking and provided them with support for being

My mom did [quit smoking]. We made a promise. Once we had both

quit smoking, we said, Ah, if either one of us starts smoking then the
other person has to start smoking. So, if I start smoking, that means
my mom has to start smoking and I dont want to risk my mom.

Feeling at ease and comfortable with their parents was also described
as important especially in having open and frank conversations about

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Maggi et al. 141

My mom knows that I do it [smoke] occasionally when Im partying

and stuff like that. I think my moms more accepting than my dad cause
my dad used to be a smoker and he quit when he met my mom. She
[mom] understands that I do have very good discipline with myself.
But, she also doesnt want me to get it out of hand and she keeps me
informed. She doesnt push her views onto me because she knows that
Im an independent person and that I can make good decisions. So, its
nice to have the support sort of thing. . . . Hes [father] very busy. So
I dont usually have time to have these like deep conversations about
smoking with him and stuff like that.

Parental Smoking and the Home Environment

Discussions about parents smoking behavior or the home environment were
common among our informants. Some of the participants talked about how
being in an environment where everybody smoked made it legitimate for
them to start smoking, whereas others talked about how they first started
smoking because of the easy access to cigarettes that were often found lay-
ing there or how the presence or lack of nonsmoking rules at home was
related to their smoking behavior.

Everybody Smoked in My Family

Several participants, when describing how they first started smoking, referred
to the fact that everybody in their family smoked. Being surrounded by
smokers was mentioned by several participants and it was often presented as
either a reason why (or a justification for) becoming a smoker. For example,
one participant said,

Well I started smoking because my brother used to smoke and I

thought, because I used to do everything he used to do, so I thought I
was cool and after my parents were smoking, so obviously I was, how
can I say that, ah, cause everybody was smoking in my family, so I
started [smoking].

Access to and Availability of Cigarettes

When describing the first few times they smoked, several of the participants
talked about stealing cigarettes from their parents:

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142 Youth & Society 46(1)

I think the first time I ever smoked a cigarette was when I was in Grade
7. Me and my friend had the house to ourselves and there was just a
pack of cigarettes laying there and so we just sort of, we just stole a
couple and we went down to my bedroom and smoked them.

Similarly, another participant who stole cigarettes from her parents said
she learned how to inhale by watching her father. Like several others, she
purchased cigarettes at a corner store by forging her mothers signature. In
addition, some participants talked about how having allowance money made
it possible for them to buy cigarettes:

I pretty much now, all I have to do is get five bucks at the beginning of
the week to buy smokes and then like my parents say dont go out to
support your habit. But yet, I still get $20 every two weeks for my
allowance or whatever and that, that is for cigarettes.

The previous examples show how parents may have unknowingly been the
source of access to cigarettes for their children. In a few cases, the participants
described how their parents willingly supported their smoking by buying
them cigarettes or by using cigarettes as a reward for doing things such as
home chores: If I washed the dishes from dinner I got a pack of smokes
from my parents. It was something that I could get easily and I never had to
try for it.
In other cases, the participants spoke indirectly about how the lack of
access to cigarettes made them either reduce their smoking or stop smoking:
I I did it [smoked] for the summer more but then, once I got home, I didnt
have any way of getting them so I found myself not as much.

Home Rules Around Smoking

In several instances the informants talked about the rules, or the lack of rules,
about smoking at home as an indication of how accepting their parents were
of their smoking. One participant described it this way:

I actually smoked at home. Not inside my home, but Id smoke out-

side and in the car and in front of my parents. They know Ive
smoked for the last two years, I think. And, they smoke themselves
so they realize its an addiction [. . .] now that they know they just let
me go at it.

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Maggi et al. 143

Another participant described the lack of rules about smoking at home: I

can just sit down, watch T.V., have a cigarette. Interestingly, none of the
participants who were forbidden to smoke at home talked about abiding to
these rules. Rather, they described how they would find ways around the rules
by blowing smoke out of the window or smoking in areas where their par-
ents rarely would go: My friend and I would go out on the, I have a two level
house, and we pretty much have the roam of the downstairs, and so well just
go out on a downstairs deck and they never really knew.

Emotional and Behavioral Responses

In addition to describing the types of messages they had received from their
parents, the quality of their relationships with their parents, and their home
environment, the adolescents also reflected on how all these played a role
in shaping their smoking behavior. The participants frequently provided
accounts of emotional and behavioral responses to specific events that
involved their parents and smoking. These accounts included references to
the ways in which their parents communication about tobacco and a smoking
or nonsmoking home environment influenced their feelings and behavior. In
general, the adolescents accounts centered on two key elements: (a) getting
caught smoking by their parents and (b) their parents as a reason for smoking
or not smoking.
Getting caught. In the early stages of smoking, the fear of getting
caught and getting into trouble were the primary concern the adolescents
expressed about their parents, independent of their parents smoking status
or whether there were other smokers at home. The participants almost
universally expressed the worry of getting into trouble or feeling para-
noid about their smoking. The fear of getting into trouble during this trying
phase was often rationalized and attributed to their age: We were just really
afraid of getting caught, cause we would probably get into a lot of trouble
at that age, a lot more that I would now.
When probed about this fear, some of the adolescents elaborated on how
they did not want to disappoint their parents. My mom would probably be,
I think youre smarter than that and stuff like that. She has higher expecta-
tions than that for me. In contrast, other youths described how they expected
to be yelled at, grounded, or beaten up if their parents discovered they
were smoking.
In several instances, participants told us stories of actually getting
caught by their parents when they first tried a cigarette. The experience of
being discovered smoking by their parents was salient and at times trau-
matic. In a few cases, parents responded by forcing their child to smoke a

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144 Youth & Society 46(1)

tobacco product until they became ill. One girl remembered being caught
while smoking her first cigarette at age 11: My dad went and bought them,
you know, those Colt cigarettes. They are like cigars. And hes like telling
me to smoke it. [. . .] And I smoke them and started feeling sick. Like oth-
ers, this participant did not smoke for a long time after that experience
although she eventually tried it again. Other participants, however, described
how being caught smoking by their parents did not change their behavior: She
[Mom] got pissed off and tried to ground me. I just walked out, or I took a
shower, and bought cigarettes. In another instance, a smoker told us the
unusual story of deliberately telling his parents that he was a smoker and then
ignoring their response and continuing to smoke. He said his parents were
irate at first and then were constantly telling him to stop smoking.
In contrast with the previous account, most of the participants generally did
not want their parents to know about their smoking. They worked to keep their
smoking a secret from their parents or, if their parents knew, were discrete
about their smoking. This occurred both in nonsmoking as well as smoking
households. Some of the participants talked about using strategies to hide their
smoking, such as chewing gum, using cologne, or keeping the smell of smoke
to a minimum by using tactics such as blowing smoke out of the bedroom
Many of these adolescents expressed feelings of respect for their parents.
For example, one informant said: My mom knows I smoke but I have too
much respect to smoke in front of her. Similarly, another informant said, I
dont mind if my mom knows that I do it, but when she has proof that I do it,
it is sort of a different thing.
Parents as a reason for smoking or not smoking. It was not uncommon for
our participants to attribute some of the responsibility for smoking to their

If my mom and dad said okay, you cannot smoke in the house, I think
it would have made a really big difference because I dont know if Id
crave it enough to get off the couch and walk outside and go have one
and sit in the cold and have one.

Similarly, others described their parents as being responsible for their

starting to smoke:

My parents were the ones who I stole my first smoke from, so

theyre probably how I got into it. Theyre probably how most of my
friends got into it, too. Not my parents, but their parents, in turn,
being smokers.

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Maggi et al. 145

However, in contrast, some of the adolescents who observed their parents

struggle with nicotine addiction were deterred from smoking. A participant
told us,

The reason I guess why I didnt become majorly addicted was the fact
that my mom smoked quite heavily. My mom had been smoking for a
really long time and I saw all the trouble she went to hide it from my
family, and to hide it from people, you know, because she was not proud
of it at all. And just the shame that I could see it brought on her made
me feel disappointed in myself for doing it.

Other participants also described how having one or both parents smoke
made them want to be nonsmokers:

My mom encouraged me not to smoke and she made a bad decision,

right. And she did try to quit for, I dont know how long she did it, but
then she got addicted again, so. I just see its really addicted and its bad
for them so Im like, No, no, Im not doing it.

Consistent with previous research about the predictors of smoking (Cohen
et al., 1994; Jackson & Bee-Gates, 1994; Maggi, 2005; Simons-Morton
et al., 1999), the adolescents in our study described aspects of parenting
styles and communication strategies as influencing their emotional and
behavioral responses to tobacco use.
We found that the participants perceived their parents as having an impor-
tant influence on their smoking behavior, and they described more positive
reactions to educational messages versus directive or authoritarian pro-
nouncements. This finding may be consistent with the results of a longitudi-
nal study of Canadian youth where it was found that children of parents who
used hostile/ineffective parenting were more likely to become smokers
(Maggi, 2005). In addition, these results suggest that parental influences may
not only be important as early predisposing factors of smoking but also con-
tinue to play important roles throughout adolescent functioning as proximal
Our findings suggest that most of the adolescents had a set of expectations
about how parents should interact with their children about smoking. For the
most part, they expected their parents to discourage them from smoking. In
addition, the ways in which the participants perceived their parents playing a
role in their smoking behavior included many direct and indirect references

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146 Youth & Society 46(1)

to the quality of the relationship between them. In our analysis, the quality of
the relationship with parents was key in determining how the adolescents
interpreted both the environment in which they lived and the messages they
received about smoking. For example, the adolescents who said that they had
a good relationship with their parents tended to describe the positive influ-
ence that their parents had on their smoking behavior, regardless of their
parents smoking status. Similarly, some of the participants chose to talk
about how it was natural for them to become smokers because everybody
else at home smoked and how they believed that having parents who smoked
legitimized their smoking. However, other participants told us that having
parents who were smokers influenced their decision to not become smokers.
Thus, our participants described disparate ways in which they were influ-
enced by parents who smoked.
Our findings regarding the positive influence parents who smoke can have
on deterring their children from smoking are consistent with Sargent and
Daltons (2001) study that found the effect of parental disapproval as strong
for parents who smoked as for nonsmoking parents.
The present study has some limitations. First, this article is based on the
analysis of sections of interviews that were part of a larger study, the main
focus of which was not parental influences. However, the accounts about
parental influences arose spontaneously during the interview process, and
we believe that they are indicative of the perceived importance of parents in
influencing smoking behavior. Second, we analyzed retrospective accounts
of the role of parents in the process of smoking acquisition. How partici-
pants reconstructed events and interpretations of such events may differ
from how they actually reacted at the moment the events occurred. Finally,
this study focused on adolescents perceptions and interpretations of the
interactions with their parents and we do not know how their parents may
have perceived the same interactions and events. Therefore, to gather a gen-
uine and global understanding of how parentadolescent relationships affect
adolescents smoking behavior, research that uses different methodologies
and that focuses on the interactions between parents and adolescents needs
to be conducted.
As it is the case for most research in the social sciences, be it qualitative or
quantitative, this study does not provide definitive answers to fundamental
questions, but it offers an evidence based rationale for investigating specific
mechanisms that deserve attention and can guide future research. Specifically,
the contribution of this qualitative study to the understanding of parental
influences on smoking behavior can be summarized as follows. First, the
effectiveness of health messages communicated by parents may be depen-
dent on how much the message is consistent with parental behavior, the type

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Maggi et al. 147

of relationship the parent has with the child, and the ways in which the mes-
sage is communicated. This finding has important implications for health
promotion research in that it has identified an area of research that is not
systematically addressed and deserves closer examination. Second, parents
can influence the smoking behavior of their children directly (e.g., through
messages about smoking, through their own smoking behavior) and indi-
rectly (e.g., through open communication in general and by using authorita-
tive and warm parenting strategies). Further research is needed to inform our
understanding of the aspects of parentchild relationships that are most con-
ducive to deterring smoking. Third, because parentchild relationships are
the result of dynamic processes that occur over prolonged periods of time,
further research about parentchild relationships from a developmental per-
spective (spanning from childhood to late adolescence and into adulthood)
need to be conducted. Fourth, further study is needed to improve our under-
standing of how adolescents construct their mental representations of
parental influences on their behaviors and how such knowledge is critical to
identifying the processes that are involved in the way adolescents interpret
and assimilate what parents say and do that deter them from smoking.
Researchers have emphasized the importance of involving parents in
tobacco-control intervention programs (U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, 1991). Generally, such interventions have aimed at teaching
parents how to talk about smoking to their children and how to provide skills
to resist peer pressure to smoke. However, the findings from the present study
suggest that the effectiveness of parental messages and strategies to prevent
smoking or to promote smoking cessation may be predisposed by the quality
of the relationship that exists between parents and teens and the perception
children have of their relationships with their parents and their parents
behavior. Much more research needs to be conducted about the issues identi-
fied here before effective interventions focused on parentchild interactions
can be fully and effectively implemented.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.

The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was supported by a grant
(Grant No. 010425) from the National Cancer Institute of Canada with funds from the
Canadian Cancer Society.

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148 Youth & Society 46(1)

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Author Biographies
Stefania Maggi is an Associate Professor with the Institute of Interdisciplinary
Studies and the Department of Psychology at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.

Chris Y. Lovato is a Professor, School of Population and Public Health, University

of British Columbia. She is also Director, Program Evaluation Studies Unit, Faculty
of Medicine.

Erin M. Hill completed her Masters in health psychology from Carleton University
in 2009. She is currently a doctoral candidate at the Auckland University of
Technology in New Zealand.

Joy L. Johnson is a Professor in the School of Nursing at the University of British

Columbia and Scientific Director of the Institute of Gender and Health, Canadian
Institutes of Health Research. Drawing on a broad array of theoretical perspectives
her research explores the social, structural and individual factors that influence the
health behavior of individuals.

Pamela A. Ratner is a Professor in the School of Nursing at the University of British

Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

Jean A. Shoveller, is a Professor at the University of British Columbias School of

Population & Public Health. She holds a Canadian Institutes of Health Research/
Public Health Agency of Canada Applied Public Health Chair in Improving Youth
Sexual Health.

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