THURSDAY, Sept. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Peer pressure continues to prompt high school students to light up, new research suggests, because popular teens tend to smoke and they induce others to take up the habit in an effort to fit in and be liked.
"Popularity is a strong predictor of smoking," said study author Thomas Valente, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine. "We haven't done enough to make it cool not to smoke."
The finding, published online Sept. 6 in the Journal of Adolescent Health, confirms trends Valente found in previous research studying smoking in students in sixth through 12th grade across the United States and in Mexico.
The new research found that the most popular kids in seven predominantly Hispanic/Latino high schools in southern California were more likely to smoke cigarettes than were other students. It turns out that just thinking your friends are smokers -- even if they aren't -- makes you more likely to smoke. And the more popular you are, the earlier you're likely to start.
"It's the popularity that's a risk factor for smoking, and it's very disturbing," said Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association and a professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, in New York.
According to the American Lung Association, 68 percent of adult smokers started at age 18 or younger, and every day almost 3,900 children under 18 try their first cigarette. People who start smoking in adolescence are more likely to develop a severe addiction to nicotine than are those who start later.
The researchers asked 1,950 students in the ninth and 10th grades in 2006 and 2007 whether they had ever tried smoking, how often they smoked in the past month, how many students they thought smoked cigarettes and how they thought their close friend
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