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Are Youth Athlete Smokers a Bad Influence on Teammates?

If your son's or daughter's youth sports teammates are routine cigarette smokers, will that make your child more likely to try a cigarette?

A new study from Child Development, published online today, suggests that teens who watch teammates smoke cigarettes may be more inclined to smoke, and the effects appear to be stronger in girls than in boys.

However, the more sports that a student participated in, the less likely he or she was to smoke, according to the study.

Researchers examined 1,260 6th through 8th graders, who were asked questions on three in-school surveys about their smoking behaviors, sports they participate in, and who their close friends were. The researchers compiled those responses and completed two separate longitudinal regression analyses to measure the impact that teammates' smoking may have on an individual.

Well and Good

There was "a significant positive effect of affiliation exposure" for students who participated in team sports, suggesting that smokers do increase the overall likelihood of their teammates smoking. Females, Asian Americans, and academically high-performing students were found to be less likely to smoke than their peers, while males, students whose parents smoke, and students exposed to a number of friends who smoke were more likely to smoke.

When exposed to teammate smokers of the same gender, the researchers only noticed significant effects on smoking probability for girls, not boys. (This finding fell in line with the researchers' stated hypothesis.)

"This result suggests that peers on athletic teams influence the smoking behavior of others even though there might be a protective effect overall of increased participation in athletics on smoking," said Kayo Fujimoto, who led the study based out of the University of Southern California, in a statement.

The study authors note that their work was limited by not capturing all team members on all teams in the study, including those who dropped out of the study mid-way through the process.

Last summer, a study published in the journal Addiction suggested that youth athletes were less likely to smoke cigarettes or use illegal drugs, but were more likely to drink alcohol.

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