Background. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, and the risk of disease increases the earlier in life smoking begins. The prevalence of smoking among US adolescents has increased since 1991. Despite bans on television tobacco advertising, smoking on television remains widespread.
Objective. To determine whether youth with greater exposure to television viewing exhibit higher rates of smoking initiation.
Methods. We used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, Child Cohort to examine longitudinally the association of television viewing in 1990 among youth ages 10 to 15 years with smoking initiation from 1990–1992. Television viewing was based on the average of youth and parent reports. We used multiple logistic regression, taking into account sampling weights, and controlled for ethnicity; maternal education, IQ, and work; household structure; number of children; household poverty; child gender; and child aptitude test scores.
Results. Among these youth, smoking increased from 4.8% in 1990 to 12.3% in 1992. Controlling for baseline characteristics, youth who watched 5 or more hours of TV per day were 5.99 times more likely to initiate smoking behaviors (95% confidence interval: 1.39–25.71) than those youth who watched <2 hours. Similarly, youth who watched >4 to 5 hours per day were 5.24 times more likely to initiate smoking than youth who watched <2 hours (95% confidence interval: 1.19–23.10).
Conclusions. Television viewing is associated in a dose-response relationship with the initiation of youth smoking. Television viewing should be included in adolescent risk behavior research. Interventions to reduce television viewing may also reduce youth smoking initiation.