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KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– Parents and friends have a huge impact on a teenager’s decision to smoke, a University of Tennessee study suggests.

The study by Dr. Gene Fitzhugh, a UT-Knoxville assistant professor of health studies, indicates that teenagers — particularly black teens — are more likely to smoke cigarettes if they think their parents or best friends don’t object.

Fitzhugh used data from a national survey by the Centers for Disease Control to rate the impact of different factors on teen smoking behavior.

“For black adolescents, the family and social environment tend to be the largest contributor. If they perceive from those people that it is all right to smoke, then they are much more likely to smoke,” Fitzhugh said.

“For whites, it is mainly how they perceive their peers’ approval and whether or not they’ve experimented with smoking in the past. There is some influence from family, but not nearly as much so as with black adolescents.”

Fitzhugh’s study suggests that the black smoking rate could be greatly reduced by parental intervention.

“If black parents could share their feelings about cigarette abstinence with their children, it might make their children less likely to smoke,” Fitzhugh said. “The same implications are true for white teens, but there seem to be more factors which are more important in determining their smoking behavior.”

Fitzhugh is also looking at other factors that influence teen smoking, such as stress and nicotine levels in cigarettes.

He will present his study findings Oct. 31 at the American Public Health Association in San Diego.

Contact: Dr. Gene Fitzhugh (615-974-6674)