According to researchers from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, adolescents are at an increased risk of smoking when they start working. Investigators found that adolescents who worked more than 10 hours per week also started smoking at an earlier age than their peers.

The authors recommend that the workplace be considered as a location for smoking prevention programmes or policies.

"Our findings highlight the importance of working on smoking behaviours of adolescents, which is an area that has not received much attention in current efforts to reduce youth smoking," said Rajeev Ramchand, lead author of the study.

Using data from the Baltimore Prevention Intervention Research Center studies, the researchers analysed work and smoking patterns of the study participants, 55 per cent of whom were male and 85 per cent, African-American. The adolescents have been followed since the first grade, so the authors were able to review multiple years' worth of data.

During year 10 of the PIRC studies, 26 per cent of the adolescents worked, and one year later, close to 40 per cent were employed as babysitters, fast food restaurant staff, store clerks and in other retail positions. Tobacco use during this time increased from 13 per cent at year 10 to 17 percent at year 11. Adolescents who worked during two consecutive study years and those who started to work during the 10th and 11th year of the PIRC study were more than three times more likely to report tobacco use initiation when compared to their non working peers.

The study results coordinate with the previously published precocious development theory, which states that adolescents seek out the rewarding aspects of adulthood ahead of their counterparts by assuming social roles and adult like behaviours.

"There is a clear relationship between working for pay and adolescent tobacco use. Ensuring that adolescents work in smokefree environments may be a promising way to prevent some adolescents from starting to smoke. However, more research is needed to systematically evaluate what features about the workplace, or about working, are most closely linked with adolescent smoking," said Ramchand, who is now an associate behavioural scientist with the RAND Corp.

The study is published in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

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